Deductions – What not to do.
No one likes paying a lot of taxes, and savvy taxpayers will claim as many deductions as they can to reduce their bill. But some people get carried away and try to claim expenses that are not allowed.
If you try to claim illegitimate write-offs (I won’t allow you to do this, but others do) you could end up getting audited and owing more taxes, as well as penalties and interest. To help you avoid that, I’ve put together a list of expenses you might be tempted to claim but can’t.
1. Home insurance (unless it’s mortgage insurance) If you meet certain IRS guidelines, however, you can deduct private mortgage insurance, or PMI, on your 2018 tax return. PMI is insurance your mortgage lender requires you to buy if you pay down less than 20 percent. The PMI payment is tacked on to your mortgage payment. Until you get at least 20 percent equity, you have to pay PMI.
2. Landlines and cellphones (unless business-related) If you still have a landline telephone at home, you can’t deduct the cost, even if you primarily use that phone for business. The IRS says the first hard-wired phone line in your home is considered a nondeductible personal expense.
But you can deduct as a business expense the cost of business-related long-distance charges on that phone. And if you have a second landline phone specifically for business, its full cost is deductible.
Cellphones are a legitimate, deductible expense if you’re self-employed and use the phone for business. It’s recommended you get an itemized bill, though, to prove it.
However, the “unreimbursed business expense” deduction for using a personal cellphone for work has been eliminated. And if your employer provides you with a cellphone as part of your job, this could increase your taxable income.
3. Commuting costs
The cost of getting to and from work is not deductible. Taking a bus, trolley, subway or taxi, or driving your own vehicle to work is a personal expense, regardless of how far you have to travel.
4. Plastic surgery (unless medically necessary)
Face-lifts, liposuction, electrolysis and other procedures done to enhance your appearance are not deductible medical expenses.
But if, for instance, you have a nose job to treat respiratory problems, the doctor’s decision makes it a medical deduction.
5. Cost of work wardrobe (unless it’s a uniform)
Looking sharp at work rests totally on your shoulders. A U.S. Tax Court ruling in 2011 reaffirmed this tax law when the judge disallowed a television anchorwoman to deduct tens of thousands of dollars in clothing she bought to wear on air.
But you can deduct the cost of dry cleaning or laundry of business uniforms, which, under the tax code, is attire you can’t wear anywhere else other than work.
6. Volunteer work (unless you rack up mileage)
Your time is valuable, but that doesn’t matter to the IRS when it comes to volunteering at a charity.
You can’t claim the monetary value of the hours you spent volunteering at your favorite nonprofit. Neither can you deduct the value of a project you created for the charity, such as a poster.
But you can deduct other costs associated with your charity work. This includes the miles you drive doing the charity’s work, which can be claimed at the rate of 14 cents per mile. Keep good records on your charity travel mileage.
You also can claim as a charitable deduction unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses. Hang on to the receipts for the poster board and special markers you bought just for the nonprofit’s poster project.
7. Over-the-counter medicines (unless a doctor prescribes)
Headache and cold treatments from your neighborhood pharmacy have never been tax-deductible. There was some confusion for a while because the IRS used to allow people with a medical flexible spending account, or FSA, to use the pretax money in that account to pay for over-the-counter drugs.
That option ended in 2011. Now, you must get a doctor’s prescription for over-the-counter meds before the purchase can be reimbursed with FSA funds.
8. Summer camp for the kids (unless it’s day camp)
When school lets out for the summer, working parents fret over what to do with the children while they are at work.
Some families send the kids off to camp. That’s a great experience for the kids and eases child-care concerns for a time.
But sleep-away camps are not tax-deductible.
However, if you decide instead to keep the kids at home and send them to day camp during the hours you’re working or looking for a job, that expense could qualify for the child- and dependent-care credit.
For one child, you can count up to $3,000 of care expenses toward the credit for 2018. If you paid for the care of two or more dependents, the credit limit is $6,000.