TDT: Tax time help: Temple High School students certified to do taxes for free

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They’re still in high school, but they’re certified to do your taxes — and they’ll do it for free.

Accounting students at Temple High School are participating in the 2018 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, a United Way of Central Texas annual outreach to combat poverty by helping people get their full refund and access the Earned Income Credit.

There are also several other VITA free tax preparation sites located around Temple and Belton, including Rose Hall, First Baptist Church of Temple, Temple Community Clinic, First Baptist Church Belton and Helping Hands ministry.

“If you make under $50,000 we’ll prepare your taxes for free,” accounting teacher Paulisa Scarlett said. “We need more clients … April 17 is our last day.”

For more information about this program, call the school office at 254-215-7000.

Scarlett said the students are doing this to give back to the community.

“We got a service donated to us — they got free tax preparation (training),” Scarlett said. “Twenty-five kids learned how to do this, and usually it takes about $250 to train … so that was free, for us. We’re taking that time that they donated and we’re giving it back to the community, so now it’s tripled.”

Junior Rylee Thompson, 17, hopes the skills she learns in accounting will help her in her future career as a financial manager and in life.

“It’ll also help me know kind of basic things you need to know in the real world,” Thompson said. “We took an eight-hour (certification) course. … It was very helpful, and I feel like everyone in this class is competent to do the taxes for other people.”

About a dozen clients have used the THS students’ services this tax season.

“We have also had multiple high school students come here to get their taxes done,” Thompson said.

Danielle Williams, 18, does not plan to go into finance or accounting, but she decided to take an accounting class just for life preparation. She said that some of the clients’ returns have been tricky, but they figure them out in the end.

“Sometimes it’s more (complicated) than what you think you’re going to do,” Williams said. “(But) I like working with people.”

Williams said she has learned a lot from working with real people’s tax returns rather than imaginary cases in class.

“It’s crazy because, the more you work, the more money you get, the less you get back,” she said. “I wondered about that. The less you work, the less money you (make), the more you get back.”

Sometimes the teen tax preparers have to deal with clients who do not have the paperwork they need — some don’t understand that they need to bring in a Social Security card, not just a state-issued ID.

“One lady … she just brought a whole bunch of receipts,” Williams said. “But they were faded, so we couldn’t really read it. It was hard to do that, but we got through it.”

Williams, who will graduate at the end of this semester, plans to study physical therapy.

“I like it, it’s actually interesting. And now I know how to do my taxes — I don’t have to pay to get them done,” she said.

Scarlett said that in addition to being certified to work as volunteers now, her students are qualified to do taxes professionally if they choose.

“Our curriculum, with United Way and VITA — they’re directly tied to our state standard TEKS, and national standards as well,” she said. “So when they finish with this course, they are nationally recognized as state tax preparers for all levels.”

Even if they do not want to go to college to study accounting, the students can get jobs right out of high school.

“They can go to Jackson-Hewitt, they can go to H&R Block, they can even do their own home-based income tax (business) for basic, and some can do advanced as well,” Scarlett said.

As their teacher spoke, two students finished up preparing a client’s return.

“We just saved our client $450,” Scarlett said. “Every client that we have, we save them about $300 to $450.”