Volunteers sought for AARP's Tax-Aide assistance program

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 20, 2013 

Carlton Nathon and Mary Solum want to help you file your tax return, and they won't charge a dime.

The two volunteers with the AARP Foundation's Tax-Aide program are recruiting others to help in the annual Whatcom County program.

Nathon, a Bellingham resident who is going into his ninth Tax-Aide season, is coordinator of the Tax-Aide team at Bellingham Public Library. He serves as contract manager for Lake Padden Golf Course and had a long career on the business side of the aerospace industry

Solum, a Sudden Valley resident, is headed into her sixth season as part of the Tax-Aide team at the library. She is a retired Internal Revenue Service employee.

Question: How many returns did you help file this year?

Nathon: We filed 2,311 returns at our seven sites in Whatcom County, an increase of 4.1 percent over 2012. That includes our 1,370 at Bellingham Public Library, which made us the largest Tax-Aide site in the state of Washington.

Q: You seem to take pride in helping people.

Nathon: We meet wonderful people who really appreciate what we do. I could count the number of jerks all these years on one hand. The majority of people we help are in the $10,000 to $30,000 income category, although we help some over $100,000.

Q: Do volunteers need an accounting background?

Nathon: Not at all. A big part of it is interpersonal communication, plus the ability to use numbers and computers. We want people with a basic understanding of our tax system.

Q: How do people become certified Tax-Aide volunteers?

Nathon: They take a self-taught online course and then take an online test. I spent about 40 to 50 hours on my own training.

Q: When do you volunteer?

Nathon: We volunteer at the Bellingham Public Library from about the third week in January through April 15 for walk-ins. Our sites in Lynden, Blaine, Ferndale and at the Bellingham Senior Center are by appointment, starting Feb. 1.

Q: How long does it take to file a typical return?

Nathon: About 35 minutes on average. We average helping 20 to 25 people per our four-hour sessions.

Solum: There might be a wait to see us, since it's first come, first served.

Q: What's the scope of your tax advice and filing?

Solum: We have a defined scope. We can help small businesses if they have less than $10,000 in expenses. We can't help people who have business losses. And we do not do returns with farm income or rental income.

Nathon: We can do capital gains and a few stock transactions, but not someone with pages and pages. The last thing we want to do is stretch our advice beyond our training and cause difficulties for anybody.

Q: What questions do you hear most?

Solum: We get a lot of questions about dependents, about unusual living arrangements. And a lot of small businesses (and Schedule C self-employment filers) aren't always aware of tax consequences. We also get people who have not filed returns for certain years.

Nathon: I remember one lady was worried because she had not filed for two years. It turned out that her income was low enough that she was not required to file, so there was no penalty. But when we filed for those two years, she was delighted to receive an earned income credit. You sometimes hear a happy squeal when people learn they have money coming to them.

TO HELP

For information on volunteering for Tax-Aide, e-mail Carlton Nathon at taxaidebellingham@gmail.com.

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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