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By the Numbers: 10 million
Itemized medical deduction claims

Ice-CreamSundae Today is the 119th birthday of the ice cream sundae.

On April 3, 1892, in Ithaca, N.Y., John M. Scott and Chester Platt invented the first ice cream sundae.

The two men originally called their creation the Cherry Sunday and tried to trademark the term "Sunday." That never happened and later the confection came to be known as the sundae.

However you spell it, we love it!

The traditional recipe calls for a dollop of chocolate syrup in the bottom of the dish (stemmed makes it so fancy!), followed by two dips (at least!) of vanilla ice cream, more chocolate syrup over that, a sprinkling of nuts, whipped cream and, of course, the topping Maraschino cherry.

But ice cream treats, like taxes, are personal. So feel free to change your ice cream flavors and experiment with toppings.

Medical weight loss deductions: Regardless of your choice of sundae, if you eat too many of them, you'll soon be looking for ways to lose weight.

The IRS can help.

No, a tax agency employee won't show up at your house to serve as your personal trainer.

But if your doctor says you need a strict weight-loss program to shed medically dangerous pounds, those expenses can be claimed on Schedule A as an itemized medical deduction.

In tax year 2008, more than 10 million tax returns included medical expense deduction claims. Those tax filings are this week's By the Numbers figure:

10 million plus medical deduction claims 2008

Those 10-million-plus medical deduction claims were worth more than $76 billion in deductions.

The IRS doesn't break it out in such detail, so there's no way to tell how many folks counted medically-prescribed weight loss efforts in their itemized deductions in 2008, the latest year for which the IRS has complete filing data.

But some weight loss expenses are allowable tax deductions. The IRS says specifically in Publication 502:

"You can include in medical expenses amounts you pay to lose weight if it is a treatment for a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (such as obesity, hypertension, or heart disease). This includes fees you pay for membership in a weight reduction group as well as fees for attendance at periodic meetings. You cannot include membership dues in a gym, health club, or spa as medical expenses, but you can include separate fees charged there for weight loss activities."

But don't over-do it, in either your exercise regimen or your tax deductions.

The IRS also says that for itemized deduction purposes you cannot count weight-loss expenses if the purpose of the less poundage program is for "the improvement of appearance, general health, or sense of well-being."

However, if you have a few too many sundaes and your doctor agrees they've caused you a medical weight problem, you might be able to get tax help in shedding the pounds.

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Elizabeth R

I always itemize for my elderly people (who have plenty of investment income) who really don't need it but are in a nursing home. It is my little way of showing this country the ridiculous cost of long term care and that it is bankrupting us slowly. Of course, I know no one is really paying attention...

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