Expenses You Didn't Know Could Be Tax Breaks

When it comes to the tax code, most rules are rigid and specific. But the IRS allows for some wiggle room when it comes to medical deductions and business expenses. Some expenses you may not realize could lead to a tax break:
  1. Gas money
    Taxpayers claiming the medical deduction can write off transportation costs for getting to and from doctor’s visits and other medical appointments. Of course, gas money alone won’t be enough to help them qualify for the tax break. Total medical expenses have to be greater than 10 percent of a person’s adjusted gross income, or greater than 7.5 percent if the person, or his or her spouse, is at least 65 years old.
  2. Swimming pool
    In rare cases, people who need a swimming pool for health reasons, say for physical therapy to help treat a chronic pain condition, may be able to write off the cost of the pool as a medical expense. But the write-off won’t come easy. Taxpayers may also have to show that the pool is not being used for any other purpose. Some people may have to prove that it is too inconvenient for them to access a pool anywhere else, either because of distance or because of the severity of their conditions.
  3. Home improvements
    Other home improvements, including the installation of hand rails, ramps or elevators may also be deductible if they are made for medical reasons. Also, if the improvement doesn’t lead to any increase in property value, the entire expense is deductible.
  4. Conference costs
    People who attended a medical conference to learn more about the ways to treat a condition affecting them, a spouse or a child may be able to write off the transportation costs and attendance fees as a medical expense. Most of the time at the conference must be spent attending sessions focused on medical information.
  5. Rent
    Don’t celebrate just yet. The rent you pay is only deductible if it’s for a business. If you’re a renter who works from home, you may be able to deduct only part of your rent, according to the IRS. And even then, you need to meet the stringent rules for making business use of a home. That includes a requirement that the relevant section of your home be used only for business. (If your home office also doubles as your guest room, you may need to count it out.)
  6. Landscaping
    Small business owners with a home office may be able to write off certain cosmetic improvements such as landscaping, lawn care and driveway repairs. One self-employed man who met most of his clients at home had success writing off part of his landscaping costs in 2001, leading to deduction of more than $11,000, when he showed that the section of his property receiving the improvements was used primarily for business.
  7. Pet food
    In another rare case, the owners of a junk yard wrote off $300 in cat food. The taxpayers explained in tax court that they brought wild cats on to the property to help scare off snakes and rats. Therefore, the food needed to feed the cats was found to be a legitimate business expense. Most people will have a hard time meeting such particular circumstances, but the 2001 case could inspire some taxpayers to think creatively about their business expenses.
  8. These tax write-offs may not be a good fit for you, but the examples may be a reminder to make sure to give your tax return a close look.