Your income tax return is due April 17 (you get two extra days this year). If you can’t finish it by then, don’t panic. You can get an automatic extension to file your return by Oct. 15, 2012.

However, obtaining an extension of time to file your return does not extend the time you have to pay any taxes due the Internal Revenue Service. Your tax payments (if any) are still due on April 17. So, if you do owe the IRS money, you’ll need to estimate out how much and pay the amount before April 17. If you pay late, you’ll be charged interest and possibly penalties as well.

There are three ways you can request an automatic extension of time to file your income tax return:

  • Electronically file Form 4868 (PDF): Application For Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Tax Return, at
  • Pay all or part of your estimate of income tax due using a credit or debit card.
  • File a paper Form 4868 by mail.

If you file your Form 4868 electronically, you will receive an acknowledgment or confirmation number for your records and you do not need to mail in Form 4868.

If you file electronically, be sure to have a copy of last year’s tax return. You will be asked to provide the adjusted gross income from the return for taxpayer verification.

If you need to pay taxes due for 2011 when filing Form 4868 electronically, you may do so through an outside provider or through IRS e-file. Several companies offer free filing of Form 4868 through the Free File program that you can access on the website.

A second way to request an automatic extension of time to file your individual return is to pay part or all of your tax due by credit card 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.

Finally, you can request an automatic extension of time to file your individual income tax return by completing paper Form 4868 and mailing it to the appropriate address provided on the form.

Stephen Fishman is a tax expert, attorney and author who has published 18 books, including "Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Contractors, Freelancers and Consultants," "Deduct It," "Working as an Independent Contractor," and "Working with Independent Contractors." He welcomes your questions for this weekly column.

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