What do pets, loved ones, and Goodwill donations have in common? People want to know if they can write them off on their taxes.
Seriously, according to tax preparers, tax season is riddled with oddball question regarding deductions. And it makes sense, really. I mean, who wouldn’t want to milk their deductions for everything they’re worth?
Some people "are very creative and want to see if they can outsmart the tax code," S. Miguel Reyna, a CPA in Dallas, tells the Wall Street Journal.
“How creative?” you ask. Check out some of these examples provided by the WSJ:
How do I value a taxidermy I donated to charity? (It can involve estimating stuffing and mounting costs.) I'm putting a swimming pool in this year, I'm going to use it for exercise, can I deduct it as a medical expense? (Likely not.) What if my neighbor gives me a cow in exchange for help building a barn? (You must report the fair market value of that cow as ordinary income.)
But those, of course, are examples of some of the rarer questions people ask at this time of year. Here's a list of the more regular “offbeat” questions tax season inspires [all block quotes via the WSJ]:
Can I claim my girlfriend or boyfriend as a dependent?
"Boy, that one comes up so often," Bob Meighan, vice president at Intuit's INTU +1.76% TurboTax, says of this question. "The answer is yes, in some cases."
Claiming a dependent reduces your taxable income. Dependents can be family members and individuals who aren't family members, but meet criteria.
To claim a nonrelative as a dependent, he or she had to live in your home for the full tax year and make less than $3,800 in gross income during that time. You also generally must provide more than half of the person's financial support, and he or she can't be claimed as a dependent by anyone else, among other criteria, says Mr. Meighan.
I left a bag of clothes at Goodwill. What's stopping me from saying it's worth $10,000 and deducting that amount?
If you itemize your deductions, you may be able take the charitable deduction for donating clothes that are in good condition to thrift shops. But gauging the value of that out-of-style blouse requires help, especially since some charities leave it up to you to determine how much you've given.
What's stopping you from writing off more than the true value? The IRS has documentation rules for these kinds of donations that vary depending on their value. If an item or group of similar items donated is worth more than $5,000, you typically have to obtain, among other things, a qualified written appraisal of the item or items donated.
Can I deduct my pet?
Fido may feel like your child, but that doesn't mean he'll land you a tax break.
That said, there are rare circumstances where a pet may qualify for a tax deduction if you itemize. If your pet is a service animal for a disability that you have, the cost of buying, training and maintaining the animal may qualify as a medical expense. This typically includes vet visits, grooming and food, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
A big caveat: You can only deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income in 2012. (The threshold is 10% for 2013 for most people).
What's more, you may be able to deduct costs related to a guard dog employed by your business for protection, depending on the circumstances, according to G. Scott Haislet, a CPA and tax attorney in Lafayette, Calif.
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