The IRS generally receives about 30 percent of all individual income tax returns in April so this means a whole lot of volume for us in about two weeks. If you are one of many who waits until the last few days—for whatever reason—and then you realize that you just won't be able to take care of it by the April 17 deadline this year, then consider requesting the automatic six month extension to file. It's really easy to do and it gives you through Oct. 15, 2012 to file your 2011 tax return.
You can request it / take it three ways:
1) If you file your Form 4868 electronically you will receive an acknowledgement or confirmation number for your records and you do not need to mail in Form 4868. If you need to pay additional taxes when filing Form 4868 electronically, you may do so through the outside service provider or through e-file. You can refer to your tax software or tax professional for ways to file electronically using e-file services. Several companies offer free filing of Form 4868 through the Free File program that you can access on IRS.gov. You can also see for more information. If you wish to file electronically, be sure to have a copy of last year's tax return because you will be asked to provide the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) from the return for taxpayer verification.
2) You can complete mail form 4868 and mail it on or before (postmarked) by the April 17 deadline. Form 4868 is a little quarter-page form that will take you only a couple/few minutes to fill out. You can find Form 4868 and instructions for filling it out here.
3) You can pay all or part of your estimate of income tax due using a credit or debit card. You may pay by phone or internet through one of the service providers listed on Form 4868. Each service provider will charge a convenience fee based on the amount of the tax payment. At the completion of the transaction, you will receive a confirmation number for your records. You can find more information on the state side of things at the California Franchise Tax Board's website. I believe the state grants you an automatic extension through Oct. 15. You do not need to request one like for IRS.
The key thing to know about an extension is that it's not an extension of time to pay. If you owe or think you will owe then do pay by April 17, that way you avoid penalties and/or interest that can accrue on your account.
Finally, if you have a balance due and are struggling to full pay it, do file your return and pay what you can and then let the IRS know about your situation. We realize that a lot of folks are in that kind of situation and we want to help you. We can be flexible. Here is more on our "Fresh Start" program and also a couple links to helpful resources: