Tax tips: How to get free help with taxes

You can’t get away with not paying your taxes, but there are ways to file your tax return without shelling out much additional cash.

The Internal Revenue Service and other agencies offer a number of programs to help people file their taxes for free, or get basic tax questions answered without paying fees.

Be warned, however: If you are seeking out help, you may need to be patient. In a blistering report to Congress earlier this month, the nation’s Taxpayer Advocate chided the IRS for taking a long time to answer calls from taxpayers, and for not getting to many calls at all, because of budget cuts.

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who is tasked with representing taxpayer concerns at the IRS, also noted that the IRS will be able to offer even less personalized assistance to taxpayers this year, either by phone or in person, because of cost.

The IRS said in a statement that it is working hard to balance its obligations given its limited resources.

Here’s what is available to taxpayers who need extra help.

Free File: The Internal Revenue Service has partnered with 14 commercial tax software providers to offer free tax preparation software to households with income below $58,000 a year.

Free forms: If your income is above $58,000 a year, you can still file your taxes for free — but you may have to work a bit harder. Beginning Jan. 31, the IRS will offer electronic versions of its paper forms for free, so people can fill out their tax forms electronically without paying a tax preparation service or buying pricey software.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide: The AARP’s foundation provides free tax assistance for households with low to moderate income, via walk-in clinics and a toll-free help line. The volunteer program pays special attention to taxpayers who are 60 and over, but you do not need to be an AARP member or even a retiree to get help. The IRS may not be able to get to all the people who call, but the agency has tried to bulk up the help it offers on its website. This is a good place to check on the status of your refund, get basic guidance on issues such as same-sex marriage and check on potential tax scams.

The interactive tax assistant also may be able to answer basic questions about things like which tax breaks are available to you.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics: If you have had a problem with the IRS and your income is below a certain level you may be able to get help from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. These clinics, which receive some government funding, help people who are being audited or owe the IRS money.

The Taxpayer Advocate: If you are having a problem that you can’t resolve with the IRS and it is causing financial difficulties or other problems, the Taxpayer Advocate may be able to help. Billing itself as the voice of taxpayers at the IRS, the advocate’s office offers help through state and national offices.

Allison Linn is a reporter at CNBC. Follow her on Twitter @allisondlinn or send her an e-mail.