The pressure is on if you haven’t filed your 1040 tax return for the 2012 tax year. On my free financial advice site, AskTheMoneyCoach.com, I’m getting a lot of panicked emails and questions from readers about their taxes. But don’t stress.
There’s still time to pull it all together—even at this late date—and to make sure you don’t get on Uncle Sam’s bad side. Here are four last-minute tax tips for late filers and anyone that will owe money to the IRS.
Tip #1: File an Extension
If you can’t file by April 15th for any reason, do request an extension. That will give you an extra six months—or until mid-October—to complete your tax return.
To file an extension, simply fill out IRS Form 4868. It’s available online at the IRS website, which is http://www.IRS.gov. You can also find the form at many public libraries and post offices.
Just be aware that getting an extension doesn’t mean you get more time from the IRS to pay any taxes you might owe. You still have to pay taxes due by the April 15 deadline. Otherwise, you risk getting hit with late payment penalties from the IRS.
Tip #2: Avoid Penalties Even if You Owe
There are several penalties you can incur at tax season. One of the stiffest is a “failure to file” penalty. It can be as much as 25% of what you owe. Again, avoid that penalty by getting your taxes filed on time or requesting an extension.
There’s also a “failure to pay” penalty. A failure to pay taxes on time usually creates a penalty of half of 1% each month, up to a cap of 25%. That’s another big penalty.
However, as part of the “Fresh Start” initiative, the IRS last year announced that it was waiving that failure to pay penalty, and giving certain people a six-month grace period to pay their tax bill.
Last year, you had to fill out IRS Form 1127A to request the penalty relief. So far this year, there’s no word from the IRS on whether it will again offer to waive those penalties. But if you can’t pay your taxes by April 15, 2013, you can always try calling the IRS or checking the IRS website right before you file to get the latest information.
Tip #3: Filing Online Is Best
At this late phase, it’s best to file your taxes online instead of filling out a paper return. If you’re expecting a tax refund, you can get it in as little as 10 days if you file electronically and use direct deposit.
Be aware that getting an extension doesn’t mean you get more time from the IRS to pay any taxes you might owe. You still have to pay taxes due by the April 15 deadline. Otherwise, you risk getting hit with late payment penalties from the IRS.
Filing online also reduces mistakes on your return, because tax software programs double-check your math. As an example of this: error rates on taxes that are e-filed are less than 1%. But they’re 20% for returns that are filed manually.
Finally, if your adjusted gross income was $57,000 or less in 2012, you can use the Free File brand-name software from the IRS and get free tax preparation and free e-filing.
Tip #4: Be Smart About the Post Office/Mail
There will always be procrastinators. That’s why we’ll all see long lines at the post office during the day and night on April 15.
If you do wait until the very last minute, here’s what you need to know:
— Use first class postage only. This is not the time to skimp on stamps. So make sure you have sufficient postage. And if your tax return weighs more than 1 oz., put extra postage on it. Because if your package is too heavy, the Postal Service could return it for insufficient postage.
— You technically have until midnight. Your tax return must be stamped by the postal service midnight April 15. As long as your return is postmarked by April 15, 2013, the IRS considers your return filed on time.
— Find out which post offices are open late. Fortunately, the U.S. Post Office has a special section on its website where you can find postal branches that are open late on tax day.
Go to http://www.USPS.com. Then click on the link that says “Find Post Offices.” Enter your zip code and it will show you which post office have evening hours—regardless of whether you’re in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or elsewhere. Alternatively, you can call 1-800-ASK-USPS and simply ask which branches are open past 6 pm.
This article originally appeared on AskTheMoneyCoach.com.