Buchholz teens tackle income tax returns for clients

Blake Schroepfer, left, Layton Lewis, back left, and Caleb Besser, center, all freshmen in the Academy of Finance, help Penny and Tim Goree to fill out their taxes at the Academy of Finance at Buchholz High School in Gainesville on Tuesday.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.

Tim and Penny Goree walked into Buchholz High School Tuesday night to have their taxes done for free through the United Way.


Need help?

Free income tax assistance is available at Buchholz High School from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m on Tuesdays.
Appointments can be set by calling the United Way at 211.

They were met by a youngster in a black suit, red tie and a mouth full of braces. Goree said she had no idea her IRS-certified tax preparer would be too young to sit behind a steering wheel without a licensed driver in the passenger seat.

Only 15 years old, Caleb Besser is one of 87 students at the Buchholz Academy of Finance who has passed the certification exam through United Way's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA).

Crowded around a school computer, the freshmen classmates Besser, Blake Schroepfer, 14, and Layton Lewis, 15, walked the Gorees - their first clients - through their tax return, with chatter about baseball and lacrosse practice weaving through their financial jargon.

“It's preparing us well for when we get out of high school,” said Schroepfer, who still has three years of homework and school dances ahead of him.

“Hopefully it can stay fresh in my mind so I can use it for the future,” Besser said.

The Gorees, originally from Palm Beach, have gone to several different United Way sites for tax prep over the years.

“First time we did it, it was an adult (preparer), last year it was a college student. It's like we're moving down the age chain,” said Penny Goree, patiently watching the three teens punch in numbers. “We had no idea it was going to be high school students.”

Buchholz, in its first year offering the certification, is the 78th high school in the country to provide income tax services through the United Way.

As part of the personal financial planning course in the school's Academy of Finance, the students in grades nine through 12 spent three months working toward becoming certified, said Michele Brothers, the academy's director.

Each student who passes the certification exam is required to help at a free session at least once.

After the students finish preparing a client's return, Brothers reviews their work. Once satisfied, she e-files the tax return and gives back all documents with personal information and Social Security numbers. Brothers said the only document that the school keeps is a pink slip with contact information in case the return gets rejected.

“It's such a good program for students,” Brothers said. “It's great anytime you can get students involved in the community and put those financial skills to the test.”

Brothers said the students' certification could also double as a part-time job opportunity for them during the tax season.

The partnership with United Way began last spring when Jennifer Stojkovic, the agency's community impact manager, reached out to Brothers.

“The hope is that we start them as young as possible and keep them as volunteers and involved in the community,” Stojkovic said. “It's a unique civic experience that they might not otherwise get.”

Stojkovic said the 77 schools around the country that provided tax preparation services last year scored $3.8 billion in tax refunds.

Though the number of people reserving tax services at Buchholz has been minimal so far, Brothers said she expects more people coming in as federal deadline approaches.

“We'll be here April 15 for all the panickers,” she said.

After toiling over the Gorees' return for about 20 minutes, Besser hit the button to check their work - and a number of red flags appeared, indicating problems.

Brothers walked the team through the file, correcting the mistakes. Finally, the return was clean.

“We did it,'' Besser said, as all three fledgling tax preparers exhaled in a teenage monotone, “Yea!''

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