Senior profile: Retired aerospace number-cruncher helps low-income people with their taxes

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 14, 2014 

7 14 Prime Nathon PAD

Carlton Nathon is the AARP Tax-Aide District Coordinator in Bellingham,Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Nathon says it is a great feeling to help someone in need with their taxes.

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Name: Carlton Nathon.

Age: 67.

Family: Nathon married his wife, Margaret, 45 years ago while he was undergraduate student at UCLA. He got married and graduated from college on the same day. They have three adult daughters and two grandchildren.

Tax service: For 10 years, ever since he moved to Bellingham from Seattle, Nathon has helped the local Tax-Aide program. Tax-Aide is the AARP Foundation's free tax service for low-income people, offering tax assistance early December to April 15 every year.

As someone who has always done his own taxes, Nathon saw it as an opportunity to get out of the house during the winter when he wasn't golfing.

"We deal with everyone from a 16-year-old that got his first job to the 90-year-old who's done taxes themselves their whole life and decided it's too complicated now."

Frustration, satisfaction: Tax forms for senior citizens have become convoluted, Nathon says. Some tax laws change every year or two, but instead of starting from scratch, the IRS modifies the existing forms. Changes in tax laws often occur late in the year, so tax forms feel thrown together and many seniors come to Tax-Aide for help due to their sense of frustration, he says.

Nathon enjoys the volunteer work because he gets to help more than 100 families in a few months.

"We're heroes," he says. "We get to do returns and make new friends."

The largest Nathon has seen was $33,000 for a woman who received a tax credit for adopting two special-needs children.

"She worked as a hairstylist and barely made a living," he says. "It was the most satisfying thing I've done."

Volunteers wanted: The local tax-help program is in danger of closing down in a couple locations because several veteran volunteers are retiring, Nathon says. To keep functioning, Tax-Aide needs new recruits.

"I would really prefer to have 25 to 28 to do the job," Nathon says. "It gives me more flexibility when someone wants to go to Arizona for a month."

The training is through a self-taught book or online class, which requires 40 to 60 hours to complete. Next comes an IRS certification test, and one day of group training to ensure the volunteers are comfortable with the program. New recruits also benefit from "buddy-system" training; they watch returning volunteers complete some returns.

Tax-Aide generally helps about 2,200 local people a year. Volunteers don't need a background in finances to participate.

"All it takes is a desire to help," Nathon says, "and the ability to work with numbers."

Attracted to Bellingham: Nathon and his wife were living in the Seattle area when he saw an advertisement for Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro and decided to drive north for lunch. They wound up looking at houses and about a month later they bought one and moved to Bellingham.

"We wanted to be some place with a university," he says. "We like the vibe that a college town has, and wanted a diversity of young people and people our age."

The Nathons say they now have a great circle of friends and enjoy the old architecture and history of Bellingham.

Practical math: Nathon began at UCLA interested in engineering, but he says that lasted about a day before he switched to a mathematics degree and wound up an economics major a year and a half into his studies.

Economics offered the "real world" practicality Nathon was interested in, and he was hired by McDonnell Douglas just before receiving his undergraduate degree. His worked for the aerospace company for 33 years before retiring to Seattle.

Shelby Rowe is a freelance writer in Bellingham.

TO HELP

Volunteers interested in helping Tax-Aide provide free tax help to low-income people should email taxaidebellingham@gmail.com or visit aarp.org.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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