15 Expenses Many Taxpayers Think They Can – But Actually Can’t – Claim As Tax Deductions

  1. Can I deduct the cost of styling photos for my Instagram account?
  2. Can I deduct moving expenses for my dog?
  3. Can I deduct the cost of covering up a tattoo to keep my job?

I get lots of questions like the ones above from taxpayers throughout the year. My answer is usually, “It depends.” That’s because facts and circumstances matter: tax deductibility may hinge on such specifics as what you do for a living, where you live, and whether you have a diagnosed medical condition.

For the record, my answers to these specific questions:

  1. I don’t know, are you Beyoncé?
  2. Your dog is considered property so you can deduct those costs so long as you otherwise meet the criteria for moving expenses.
  3. No, it’s considered a personal expense, but do it anyway if you need to keep your job. Or switch jobs.

Most of the time, the rules are straightforward. Occasionally, you’ll hear about a tax deduction that some other person could wrangle, but that’s typically because of very specific facts and circumstances. Follows is a list 15 expenses that many taxpayers think they can – but can’t – claim as tax deductions on an individual federal income tax return (but a few still can):

  1. Pets.No matter how much your four-legged, scaly or feathered friend feels like a member of your family, the cost of caring for your pet – from food to vet visits – is generally not deductible. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers pet-related expenses routinely personal. A few exceptions apply, including the care of service animals and guard dogsand potentially, charitable expenses for animal rescues.
  2. Alarm systems.There is no tax deduction for the installation and maintenance of an alarm system at your hometo protect your personal belongings even if you have really, really nice stuff. There’s an exception, however, if you’re protecting your business property: the installation and the monthly fees at your place of business are deductible. If your place of business happens to be your home, you can deduct a portion of the alarm system if you claim the home office deduction.
  3. Gym memberships and weight loss programs.Gym memberships and weight loss programs are only deductible as a treatment for a diagnosed disease or condition. The program must be specifically ordered by your doctor: if your doctor merely advises you to lose some weight or up your activity level to protect your health, that’s not sufficient. Remember that you still have to meet the applicable thresholds to claim the deduction which means that you must itemize on a Schedule A and your deductible medical expenses are only those that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).
  4. Plastic surgery.You cannot deduct the cost of plastic surgery to simply look or feel better; as with gym memberships and weight loss, to be deductible, the procedure must be a treatment for a specific disease or condition diagnosed by your doctor. Plastic surgery for a non-medical purpose is never a tax-deductible expense.
  5. Vitamins and health shakes.Assuming that you itemize, you can deduct qualifying medical expenses. That includes prescription drugs but over the counter meds – even if you need them – don’t count unless prescribed by a doctor (a mention or suggestion isn’t sufficient). Even when prescribed by a doctor, certain foods, and food supplements – like health shakes – may still be non-deductible if they are merely taking the place of other foods. However, there are some exceptions, like those for food allergies or celiac disease.
  6. Maternity clothes.Clothing for work is only deductible if the sole purpose is clearly for business purposes (think branded uniforms). It’s not deductible if you could wear the clothes outside of your workplace even if you don’t. That goes for maternity clothes, too. If you have to stock up on maternity clothes – including suits for court or coats for outdoor use – to get you through your pregnancy, that cost is not deductible even if you don’t plan to wear them again. Ever.
  7. Driver’s license fees.While state and local taxes are deductible for taxpayers who itemize, associated costs and fees may not be. That includes your driver’s license and car inspection fees. Similarly, you can’t deduct the cost of licensing dogs, cats or other animals – even if they’re considered property in the state where you live.
  8. Political contributions.You cannot deduct contributions made to a political candidate, a campaign committee, or a newsletter fund. Likewise, you can’t deduct lobbying expenses, including amounts paid for research, preparation, planning, or coordination of those expenses. You can’t get around the rules by claiming the expenses are for business purposes: they’re still not tax deductible.
  9. Commuting expenses.You cannot deduct the costs of getting to and from work, no matter if you take a bus, trolley, subway, taxi, or drive your own car. Commuting expensesto and from your regular place of work are never deductible; however, the cost of other business or job-related travel may be.
  10. Private school.Private school expenses (including tuition) are not deductible. However, expenses for a child in nursery school, preschool, or similar programs for children below the level of kindergarten may be deductibleif they otherwise qualify as child care.
  11. Homeschooling expenses.Teachers may deduct up to $250 for books, supplies, computer equipment, and supplementary materials used in the classroom and paid for out of pocket. This rule doesn’t apply to those who homeschool: in Pub 17, the IRS specifically excludes expenses for home schooling for purposes of the deduction. No other federal tax deductions apply: however, a handful of states, including Louisiana, allow state tax breaks to cover the cost of homeschooling expenses.
  12. Babysitting.Occasional babysitting so that you can catch a movie that isn’t animated (!) or enjoy a nice meal may be desperately needed, but is still considered personal in nature and not tax deductible. However, if you pay for child care so that you can work or look for work, those expenses may count towards the child and dependent care credit.
  13. Expenses paid by someone else.In most cases, the IRS only allows deductions for amounts that you pay out of pocket for your own expenses (or those belonging to your spouse and your dependent). If someone else makes your home mortgage payment or pays off your medical bills, typically neither of you can claim a deduction. However, for purposes of the student loan interest deduction, if another person makes a student loan payment on your behalf, it’s as though you made the payment. Some limitations apply.
  1. Clown noses and sparkly leotards.Typically, you can’t claim a tax deduction for expenses for clothing, make-up, or hair care expenses for your job if you could wear them outside of work – even if you wouldn’t (see #6). However, professional artists and performers may be able to deduct certain expenses – like the costs of clown noses and sparkly leotards – as an above-the-line deduction if those items are used exclusively for performances. (If you want to wear your clown nose and/or sparkly leotard outside of your performances, I won’t judge you, but you’ll lose your opportunity for a tax deduction.)
  2. Child support.Okay, this one is a little bit of a cheat. While most of the deductions on the list could, under some circumstances, be shoe-horned into a deductible position, child support is never deductible: it is tax neutral. It is not tax deductible to the payor nor taxable to the recipient. However, spousal support is both tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the recipient. For more on both, check out this prior article.

Some taxpayers can claim certain of these deductions under specific circumstances (home offices, diagnosed medical conditions, special occupations) but these deductions are off-limits for most taxpayers. If you think they might apply to you – or if you’re not sure – it’s always best to consult with your tax professional.

 

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