After today's Fat Tuesday celebrations a lot of folks probably will be looking at ways to trim the extra pounds they added.
Uncle Sam might be able to help. But only if your diet program meets the many tax deduction requirements.
On advice of a doctor: The major tax rule before you can write off any weight loss program expenses is that they be medically necessary.
That means that you need more than just your judgmental self-diagnosis after you step on the scales. Your doctor must concur with your conclusion.
The most common situations where a doctor demands you drop a few pounds are when you suffer from obesity, hypertension, heart disease and high cholesterol.
Once you get a physician's OK, you can count membership fees in a weight-loss group such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, as well as the costs for separate meetings the group holds.
If you need more intense weight control supervision per doctor's orders, the costs of bariatric surgery, FDA-approved weight-loss drugs, physician and hospital-based programs, behavioral counseling, dietitians and nutritionists also are deductible.
You cannot, however, include gym, health club or spa membership dues as medical expenses. But if your gym charges you extra for doctor-prescribed weight loss activities, you can count those fees.
Diet food deduction limits: And while you might be able to deduct a weight loss group's membership fees, its recommendation that you buy its brand of food at your local grocery store is not deductible.
The IRS says:
You cannot include the cost of diet food or beverages in medical expenses because the diet food and beverages substitute for what is normally consumed to satisfy nutritional needs.
You can include the cost of special food in medical expenses only if:
- The food does not satisfy normal nutritional needs,
- The food alleviates or treats an illness, and
- The need for the food is substantiated by a physician.
Whew! Just jumping through these weight-related tax deduction hoops should trim a few pounds.
But wait, there's more.
Itemizing required: You've got to itemize to deduct your eligible weight-loss expenses. They are part of your overall medical deductions on Schedule A.
That means the grand total of your medical (and dental) costs must be more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI).
Then you can only write off the amount that's over that income threshold. So if your AGI is $40,000 you'll need to accumulate more than $3,000 in medical expenses before they'll do you any good.
And even then, it's the amount greater than three grand that is deductible; if your medical costs are $3,100 then you only get to claim $100.
But unless you already have a weight condition that warrants medical intervention, you'll have to foot the bill for dropping your party pounds on your own.
The IRS specifically warns that "you cannot include in medical expenses the cost of a weight-loss program if the purpose of the weight loss is the improvement of appearance, general health, or sense of well-being."
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