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10 Weird Tax Breaks You Won’t Believe the IRS Allows

Ransoms, body oil, wedding leftovers can all save you money at tax time


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As a general rule, your federal income tax form is one of the last places where you should say, “Heck, let’s try it and see what happens.” The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) isn’t noted for its madcap, devil-may-care attitude. Nevertheless, people do try to take unusual tax deductions. Sometimes the IRS allows them. Sometimes tax court allows them. “Oftentimes, it seems like it’s the IRS denying it and then the tax court allowing it,” says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Here’s a look at 10 of the most unusual tax deductions the IRS has allowed.

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Ransoms

Ransomware is a malicious computer program that encrypts important business information. The hackers demand payment for a key that will unlock the digital data. It’s a big business: In 2021, meat-packer JBS paid an $11 million ransom to regain access to critical computer files, and pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline paid about $4.4 million in a ransomware attack. More recently, a $22 million ransomware attack on a popular insurance billing service temporarily shut down insurance claim processing. Most ransomware attacks are aimed at small businesses, however. You can deduct the cost of a ransomware attack as a business expense, provided you can prove the attack occurred.

Animal expenses

Owning a pet for emotional support may ease your anxiety, but that’s not a legitimate reason for deducting Fluffy’s food, litter and veterinary bills. A bona fide service animal, such as a guide dog used by someone who has a visual or hearing impairment or a physical disability, is another story. The cost to buy, train and maintain (food, grooming, vet care) a service animal under these circumstances is generally deductible as a medical expense, according to IRS guidelines. And if a cat keeps your business free from rats, or a dog keeps your business free from thieves, you might be able to deduct some of the expenses for its care. “If it can be associated with some sort of income, [it] was allowed,” Luscombe says.

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Body oil

OK, most of us can’t deduct the cost of body oil, no matter how great it makes your skin feel. But what if you’re a bodybuilder? It takes a lot of oil to make your body shine like that, and it’s a legitimate expense for professional weight lifters.

Clarinet lessons

In 1962, a parent deducted the cost of clarinet lessons for her child, says Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and tax expert with TurboTax. The reasoning: An orthodontist said it would correct the child’s overbite. The IRS allowed the deduction as a medical expense.

A doctor’s note can help you get some other medical deductions – such as costs of quitting smoking or losing weight. Be sure to document your costs – and get that note from the doctor.

Cosmetic procedures

The IRS will allow you to include cosmetic surgery in your medical expenses if it is necessary to improve a deformity from (or directly related to) a congenital abnormality, an injury from an accident or trauma, or a disfiguring disease. “There was a case where an exotic dancer, known as Chesty Love, tried to depreciate her breast implants on her taxes,” Greene-Lewis says. “The IRS initially blocked the depreciation deduction, but the U.S. court ruled that the breast implants can be claimed as a business deduction.”

Elevators

If you have mobility problems and can’t leave your multistory house, an elevator is a reasonable solution — and a deductible one, says Melanie Lauridsen, director of tax practice and ethics with the American Institute of CPAs. Two hitches: First, this is a medical deduction. You can only use the amount of total qualifying medical expenses that are above 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Second, if the elevator increases the value of your property, you must subtract that amount from the amount you deduct. The same rule holds true for swimming pools (more below).

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Swimming pools

Yes, fun is good for you, but you can’t deduct the costs associated with a swimming pool because swimming makes you happy. The IRS did allow a deduction for installing a swimming pool at the home of an arthritis sufferer whose doctor prescribed regular swimming for him, according to eFile. 

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Tutors

If your child has a learning disability, such as dyslexia, and you hire a tutor to help, you can claim the cost of that tutor as a medical deduction. “It really has to be like a specialized teacher,” Lauridsen says. “It can’t just be a reading teacher like that you find in a regular public school.” Because this is a medical deduction, it would be subject to the 7.5 percent AGI limitation.

Wedding stuff

What to do with the leftover food from the reception? What about that wedding dress you’ll never wear again? Donate them to charity and take a charitable deduction. To claim the donations, you’ll need to itemize deductions on your tax return using Schedule A.

Whaling boat repairs

If you happen to own a whaling boat, you can deduct $10,000 a year for repairs. Don’t run out and buy one. The U.S. government bans whaling, but certain Native American tribes are allowed to do so.

Remember that it’s not worthwhile to itemize your deductions unless you have more itemized deductions than the standard deduction, which is $13,850 for individuals and those who are married and filing separately. It’s $27,700 for married couples filing jointly for the 2023 tax year. Heads of households get a $20,800 standard deduction. For those 65 and older or blind and who are filing jointly, the standard deduction increases by $1,500 ($1,850 for single filers and heads of households).

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