Tax pro, enrolled agent, college grad – a prelude for the future Dr. Vazquez
Thomas Vazquez helped hundreds of taxpayers prepare and file tax returns years before filing one for himself.
Some may say youth is wasted on the young. But in Vazquez’s 22 years, he has wasted little. At just 17 years old and a senior in high school in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Vazquez enrolled in the H&R Block Income Tax Course. He passed easily and was asked to become a tax professional the upcoming tax season. Vazquez turned 18 that December and weeks later – months before graduating high school – was prepping and filing tax returns all while having never filed one for himself.
He files a tax return now but because he’s a student and under 24, his parents still claim him as a dependent.
From one beach to another
After that first season as a tax professional in his hometown office, Vazquez moved to the beaches of Miami where he attended the University of Miami. Safe to assume he would have been a finance or accounting major given his propensity to navigate the tax code, right? Nope, he had other ambitions: medical school.
Because being a tax professional gave him flexibility, Vazquez was able to transfer to an office just a few blocks from the university.
“When I first met Thomas, I had been interviewing tax professionals and front desk associates all day,” said Enid Echevarria, Miami south district general manager, “So, when he came in I just thought he may have been the son of someone I had interviewed. But then he said his name and introduced himself and told me why he liked doing taxes. I was just amazed at how poised and professional he was and he wasn’t even 20. He is a breath of fresh air.”
Four years later, Echevarria looks back on that encounter and marvels at what Vazquez has accomplished at such a young age, including becoming an enrolled agent.
“We have tax professionals who have been with us longer than Thomas has been alive finally saying they want to become enrolled agents,” she said. “He truly has been an inspiration to others.”
Inspiration came early
Vazquez’s dream of becoming a physician came early in life. He had bad allergies and frequented the doctor’s office, even making more than one emergency room visit because of an allergic reaction.
“The doctors were so nice to me,” Vazquez remembers. “They were able to help me when I didn’t think help was available. That’s the moment I knew I wanted to help people like that, too.”
That quest led him to the University of Miami – affectionally known by many simply as “The U.”
Following the pattern of overachievement, Vazquez earned his degree in microbiology and immunology in just 3 ½ years. That afforded him the opportunity to work as a researcher in the lab where he is the only non-graduate degree or doctorate to be among the authors of a paper that published results of investigating the effect of B cells – or the lack of – on aging and obesity.
Vazquez applied to a few medical schools in Florida and Virginia. He already has been accepted to Florida International University in Miami. He is awaiting interviews and going through the process at his other top picks.
‘Doogie Howser, E.A.’
The comparison to the 1990s TV sitcom about a teen prodigy who became a doctor at 14 is not lost on Vazquez; he is a certified member of MENSA, which is open to anyone who scores in the 98th percentile on an approved standardized IQ test. He said he hears about Doogie Howser often, although he was born two years after the show went off the air. The first time he heard it he had to look it up. He is flattered by the reference but insists what he is doing is not that special.
“I love what I do,” he said, referencing both his work at H&R Block and his academic studies. “And I think the two have a lot of parallels. Working at H&R Block has allowed me to interact with people from all backgrounds. Both taxes and medicine can be very personal. I have had to learn how to better communicate and that will help when I am a doctor.”
When he was looking for a part-time job in high school, he was not interested in working in a fast-food restaurant or in a retail store. A family friend who worked in an H&R Block tax office encouraged him to apply because he was good at math.
“I wasn’t interested in flipping patties or working at a retail store,” Thomas said. “Working at H&R Block is intellectually stimulating and I like being able to help people. It is also a unique opportunity for pay advancement because it is based on what you put into the job.”
Working at H&R Block fit with his school schedule and he noticed that many of his co-workers were either retired or worked at H&R Block as their part-time job. This tax season, Thomas is working full time, compared to his part-time schedule when he was in school.
“It can be whatever you want it to be. You can just work when you’re available or you can make it a career,” Thomas said. “The company does a great job of rewarding you.”
But it was his desire to be more valuable to his clients and better understand taxes that led him to becoming an enrolled agent. An enrolled agent is a federally-authorized tax practitioner who has completed a three-part comprehensive examination and completes 72 hours of continuing professional education every three years. The National Association of Enrolled Agents says there are about 46,000 practicing enrolled agents in the United States.
“I got frustrated I couldn’t do more complex returns,” he said. “I decided I wanted to learn as much as possible so I started studying between appointments. It also made more clients trust me and it gave me more confidence.”
This studying led to taking – and passing – the enrolled agent exam at 19, right before his third tax season. This accomplishment makes him among the youngest enrolled agents at H&R Block, and the country.
Vazquez hasn’t been satisfied with just learning as much as possible: as a virtual instructor, he now teaches income tax courses to H&R Block tax professionals across the country as well.
Nadjane Bezerra Silva, office manager where Vazquez will do several hundred returns this season, has seen his work ethic and ability to connect with clients no matter their age firsthand. She shared this story from a client:
“Thomas leaves a profound lasting impression long after your appointment with him is over. He leaves you with peace of mind, a feeling that your individual tax needs have been thoroughly met as he walks you through the process with his expertise. He is courteous, professional and a fine individual. I can't thank Thomas enough for his excellent service."
The call to serve
No matter if he is helping clients as a tax professional or seeing patients when he is a doctor, Vazquez will take one story of a particular client with him wherever he goes.
The client interaction started out as any other: he talked to the woman, a new client, via phone to set up an appointment and ask about her life and tax situation. The woman was elderly and not able to travel easily to the office. So, Vazquez went that extra mile – literally – and visited the woman at her home.
As he went through her prior year tax returns he noticed that her adult son, who is disabled and lived with her, was not on the returns. She said no one ever mentioned claiming him as a dependent before. But Vazquez, because he actually visited the client at her home, saw something no one else did. So he amended her prior three years returns, which is all that the IRS allows, and the client received an additional $10,000 refund for those three years.
This will be Vazquez’s last tax season at H&R Block – at least for now, he said. “I’ve already scheduled my tax appointment with a great tax pro in my office for next year.”
In the fall, he will be in medical school. He will find this year’s April 18 deadline bittersweet. He came to H&R Block at 17 looking to make some money at a flexible part-time job. He leaves as an adult destined to continue to serve, maybe not in an H&R Block green polo shirt, but instead a white lab coat. The two-letter credentials that follow his name will change from EA to MD.
“No matter what his path may be he will always have a home here,” Echevarria said. “We are all proud of him and honored to have known him.”
By Gene King
Gene King joined H&R Block in 2008 after starting his 25-year communications career in print journalism. He sums up his philosophy simply: “words matter.” A proud graduate of the University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, King earned his Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications from KU in 2001 and his accreditation in public relations (APR) in 2015. In addition to serving as H&R Block’s newsroom editor-in-chief, King also is the global spokesman for H&R Block.