As April 17, 2012 approaches, many Americans are faced with the deadline of filing their 2011 income tax returns.

Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and affiliated organizations offer free help to anyone who asks. Certain groups of qualified individuals can even qualify for additional help.

For those willing to drop some money, there are many helpful references, tools and professionals available for assistance.

Free Help from the IRS

The IRS Web site itself is a portal that contains nearly everything one needs to know about filing income tax returns.

Individuals can file income tax returns free electronically at the IRS' freefile.

A helpful online reference for individual income tax returns is here. Individuals can also get help by calling 1-800-829-1040 or visiting their local Taxpayer Assistance Centers.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) offers free help in basic income tax return preparation to people who generally make $50,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offers free tax help for all with priority assistance to people who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement issues unique to seniors.

For a comprehensive list of free tax services from the IRS, click here.

Paid Services

If an individual wants to spend some time and become proficient at filing income tax returns, investing in a book like J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2012: For Preparing Your 2011 Tax Return may be a good idea.

For tax software (in 2010), ConsumerSearch recommended TurboTax Premier for complex returns, TurboTax Deluxe for most individuals, TaxACT Online Ultimate for simple returns and TaxACT Free Edition for free tax preparation.

For storefront tax-preparation services, ConsumerSearch recommended H&R Block, calling it a good compromise betweeb do-it-yourself and hiring an accountant.

For those willing to pay for professional tax preparers, they can find enrolled agents through the National Association for Enrolled Agents (NAEA) and CPAs through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

Stephanie Auwerter of SmartMoney gives some helpful tips for those wanting to go through this (relatively expense) route.