These teens will do your taxes for free

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Courtesy: Lee Knodel

Taxes are due in just under a month. For those procrastinating, there’s an interesting option in Santa Barbara. What if high school students did your taxes for you, for free? Would you trust them with your money? According to Santa Barbara High School teacher Lee Knodel, you should.

“We knew from the beginning that we were really going to have to run a tight ship, and we do,” said Knodel, adviser of the Dons Net Café Voluntary Income Tax Assistance Program, or VITAIt’s the first high school program to ever be awarded an IRS Electronic Filing Identification Number. 

Dons Net Café students electronically file more than 600 tax returns annually, and have been at it for 23 years. They begin training when school starts in fall, and must be certified by December. Their office at SBHS is open every Thursday from 3-6 p.m. until tax season ends.

“We want to make sure we’re ready to go as soon as the customers are,” said Knodel. Training includes working with the IRS website, learning the names of forms, practicing tax law and taking a certification test. Knodel and another tax adviser double-checks every form before it’s filed.

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Dons Net Cafe students in Washington D.C., where there tax site was recognized by the IRS and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities this March. Courtesy: Lee Knodel

“When there’s an error, it’s usually because we didn’t receive the right information,” she said.

The program seeks to help anyone who makes under $65,000 annually. According to Knodel, most customers are single moms, college students, senior citizens, homeless people and small-business owners.

“As you can imagine, customers come in with a variety of different experiences,” said Knodel. “Doing taxes is very personal and emotional. You have to talk to people about the baby’s daddy, relationships, deaths…” The group gets together and reflects on these kinds of conversations afterward.

Knodel says most of her students go on to study business or accounting in college. “They’re self assured and proud of themselves.”

This year, taxes are due Monday, April 18th.