Making Estimated Tax Payments


How and when to make estimated tax payments.

Making estimated tax payments is easy: you fill out a very simple form and mail it to the IRS with your check.

When to send payments

For nearly all taxpayers, the due date for the first estimated tax payment of each year is April 15 — the same day the return is due for the previous year. Subsequent payments are due June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year. You'll want to note the following points:

  • If you owe money with your tax return, and have to make an estimated tax payment, you have two checks to write on April 15. Be prepared!
  • Although the payments are "quarterly," they aren't three months apart. The second payment is due just two months after the first one.
  • If the regular payment date falls on a weekend or legal holiday you get an extra day or two, until the first day that isn't a weekend day or holiday.
  • Like your tax return, the estimated tax payments are considered "on time" if you mail them by the due date.
  • Most states require estimated tax payments on the same schedule as the federal payments. Tax tip: If you itemize deductions, it may be to your advantage to make your fourth quarter estimated tax payment in December, not January, so you can deduct it a year earlier.
  • A small minority of individual taxpayers use a fiscal tax year that ends with a month other than December. Their payment schedule is different (but equivalent): the 15th day of the fourth, sixth and ninth months of their fiscal year, and the 15th day of the first month of the following fiscal year.

What to file

When you make estimated tax payments you need to enclose Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax Voucher. See Fairmark's Fast Form Finder. This form is about as simple as they get. It asks for your name, address and social security number — and just one other item: the amount you're paying.

  • If you've previously made estimated tax payments, the IRS will send forms with your name, address and social security number pre-printed. Even if this is your first year paying estimates, the IRS will send pre-printed forms after they receive your first payment. You're not required to use these forms — don't panic if you lose them — but the IRS prefers that you use them to help assure that your payment will be processed promptly and correctly.
  • Form 1040-ES comes from the IRS as part of a package that includes lengthy instructions and detailed worksheets. But you don't have to fill out the worksheets unless you think they'll be helpful. See How Much to Pay. And you should never send these worksheets to the IRS.
  • Estimated tax payments don't go to the same address as your return! Don't enclose an estimated tax payment with your Form 1040. Check the instructions for Form 1040-ES for the proper address.
  • Enclose your check. Write your social security number on the check and a notation of what it's for, like this: 2009 2nd Q Form 1040-ES. And if you're doing this before your first cup of coffee in the morning, double check to see that you signed the check.

You don't have to justify your estimated tax payments. In fact, there's no place for a signature on the form. When you send it in, you're not promising that this is the correct amount. All you're saying is "here's a payment on account."

That means you can choose to combine payments if you find that's convenient for you. For example, if you owe a smallish amount and don't want to be bothered making four payments, you can send the full amount in April. You won't get any special credit for making an early payment of the amounts due later in the year. But the IRS won't bug you for June and September payments just because you made an April payment and then stopped. (If this is your first estimate ever they'll send preprinted forms for the remaining three payments, but they won't complain if you don't use them.)

Keep records

Be sure to keep an accurate record of your estimated tax payments so you can claim credit for them when you file your return.

Joint payments

If you're married, you can make joint estimated tax payments with your spouse except:

  • You can't make joint estimated tax payments if you're considered single for tax purposes (there's a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance).
  • You can't make joint estimated tax payments if either spouse is a nonresident alien.
  • You can't make joint estimated tax payments if you and your spouse have different tax years (a rare circumstance).

Paying joint estimated payments does not mean you have to file a joint return. But if you end up filing separately, you'll have to sort out who gets credit for what amount.