TDT: THS students train to become income tax volunteers

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Daniel Ramos has spent much of his time this month training VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, volunteers.

On Monday, Ramos, community services coordinator for the United Way of Central Texas, was training about 12 Temple High School students to become volunteer income tax return preparers.

The students attend the accounting, insurance operations classes in the business education division, taught by Paulisa Scarlett, of the career technology education department.

The VITA program, sponsored by the United Way of Central Texas, provides free income tax assistance to individuals and families living in the Bell County area with a household income of about $50,000 a year or less.

In addition to providing free tax preparation, VITA works to ensure everyone in the community receives all of the tax credits and deductions for which they are eligible. The program is supported by volunteers.

VITA sites will open next week at eight locations and appointments are already being made.

“We plan to be open one to two days per week,” Scarlett said. “The students will review the clients’ paperwork and enter the data into a computer program. The information will be checked by Scarlett and then sent on the United Way to be checked one last time before it’s e-filed.”

This is great for the students, she said. Students will be able to add the certification to their resume after they take a test and they’ll have a life skill that will serve them well. They will be qualified to prepare taxes for preparation businesses.

“This is new and I’m hoping to grow it,” Scarlett said. “We have 12 students this year, I’m hoping next year we have 25. I want these kids to be financial ready when they go to college. They’ll know how to fill out a tax return, they’ll know what’s included in a W2 form.”

Timothy Jarrett, a junior in the International Baccalaureate program, said he’s always been interested in taxes and it’s useful to learn about them in school.

“I think accounting is useful in any career,” Jarrett said.

Students in the IB program get one elective and the business education class is Jarrett’s.

The United Way of Central Texas VITA program prepared 843 tax returns and hopes to prepare 1,000 this year, said Vashell Greene, director of public relations at United Way.

James Padilla, a Temple High senior, is on the health and science pathway at the high school and is taking medical coding classes and could become certified in that field by the time he graduates.

Accounting and taxes affect every field, Scarlett said.

“Doesn’t matter where you work you’re going to have to do your taxes,” she said.

One of the benefits of getting taxes prepared through the VITA program is that it’s a free service and the clients aren’t paying commercial preparers several hundred dollars.

Padilla said he was pretty sure his grandmother has her taxes prepared by VITA volunteers.

“She doesn’t make a lot of money and she supports me and my two brothers,” he said.

Ramos took on the instruction of the class in the morning, teaching the students about the computer program they would be using for the data entry while preparing tax returns.

Jo Ireland, a certified public accountant, had the students in the afternoon and was going to provide information on the rules and regulations in tax preparation.

“It’s especially challenging with these guys, because they don’t know what a tax return is,” Ireland said of the students. “I have to make them understand why we file taxes.”

The students will cover filing status and why it matters. They need to know who can be a dependent.

“After lunch we’ll look at the different types of income, information about the Affordable Care Act, and the types of refunds people receive,” she said.