These Philadelphia high school students can do your taxes as well as any CPA — for free

Lincoln High School student Youssef Ichou
Lincoln High School junior Youssef Ichou works with a client to make sure she has her income tax documents in order. Photo credit Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — High school students are giving back to their communities by preparing income tax returns for free.

At the Campaign for Working Families office on North Broad Street on Thursday, Youssef Ichou made sure his client had her W-2 and other income tax documents in order. But Ichou isn’t a CPA. He’s a junior at Lincoln High School.

“Seeing people, older people, who generally need help, and helping them first-hand, just feels amazing. I love doing it,” Ichou said. “They think I’m in college, but I’m only in 11th grade.”

About 130 district students from Lincoln, Northeast, Murrell Dobbins and George Washington high schools are taking part in the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Before they meet taxpayers, students are certified in ethics, intake and tax preparation, said Lincoln accounting teacher Stacie Johnson.

“We do payroll, so they know how the net and gross income works, and we talk about the system first,” Johnson said.

Supervisors check the students’ work before returns are filed.

Lincoln High School student Iona Powell
“It kind of feels nice to give back to the community, to help people who need it,” said Iona Powell, a junior at Lincoln. Photo credit Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

Students in the VITA program gain skills that can bolster their resumes, said Denise Magasich, a business and finance programs specialist from the school district’s career and technical education office.

“If you could see a student has IRS certifications for three years, QuickBooks and Microsoft certification, that’s going to really set them apart of other students who are going for the same type of job. So it really qualifies our students and gives them a leg up,” she said.

The interpersonal experience with clients is invaluable, she added. “Employers want employees that have these soft skills. And soft skills are very hard to teach.”

Students prepared Melvin Brown’s return Thursday. He gave them high marks for maturity.

“I thought they were from college, actually — because I work at Temple, and I thought that’s where they were from,” he said. “They’re very professional about what they’re doing.”

Client Florence Thomas of Feltonville said she had no concerns about having a high school student prepare her tax return.

“It’s good. It gives them experience in doing it,” she said. “They need more people out here to do these taxes.”

Loretta Davis, a client from North Philadelphia, added, “It was perfect — 100% I enjoyed it.”

While students in the VITA program gain real-world experience, they also win satisfaction.

“It kind of feels nice to give back to the community, to help people who need it,” said Iona Powell, a junior at Lincoln.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio