We bought a new house in June. The old owner was a chain smoker so we had to hire a professional cleaner to clean from top to bottom and it was quite expensive. Can we get a tax deduction for this? My wife has allergies so we had to do it. Thanks. We love your column.
Congrats on the new house!
Before we get too far into your question, you need to consider whether the expense is worth claiming to begin with… Assuming that you itemize (only a third of taxpayers actually do), medical expenses are still subject to a threshold, sometimes called a floor, before you can take a penny of actual deduction. The floor is 7.5% of your AGI (adjusted gross income), meaning that you can only claim expenses which are in excess of that amount.
Here’s a quick example: Let’s say that your AGI is $40,000. Your floor, for purposes of the medical expense deduction, is $3,000 ($40,000 x 7.5%). That means that you can only deduct medical expenses over $3,000. So, if your total expenses are $5,000, you can deduct $2,000. If, however, your total expenses are $2,500, you can’t claim anything.
I say that in the beginning because you don’t want to make a lot of effort to figure out the analysis if it’s a moot point.
So assuming that “expensive” brings you over the threshold – or that, combined with other expenses, you’re already there – the next step is to figure out whether it’s deductible.
Unfortunately, the answer to your question is, in most circumstances, that there’s no tax deduction available. Generally, you cannot include in medical expenses the cost of household help, even if such help is recommended by a doctor, because it is considered a personal expense that is not deductible (exceptions apply for nursing services).
If the expense is merely personal – you wanted to make your home cozier or prettier, for example – you can’t take it as a medical expense. In most circumstances, cleaning the house, even if it’s to remove tar from the ceiling or suck the smoke smell out of carpets, would be considered a personal expense.
If, however, you can prove that the expense is not simply household help but rather an improvement to accommodate you because of a disability (or that of your spouse or dependent), you can include the cost of improvements that do not increase the value of your home. The cost of an improvement that increases the value of your home would be reduced by the boost: the difference is a medical expense. If the value of your property is not increased by the improvement, the entire cost is included as a medical expense (this usually includes things like wheelchair ramps, porch lifts, support bars, etc.).
Following that logic, if your wife is severely allergic and the improvements/cleaning were prescribed by a doctor, the cost may qualify as a medical expense (the same goes for air filtration upgrades, etc., upon the advice of a doctor). Keep in mind that you can’t take the deduction merely because you think it’s a good idea or might make your spouse feel better.
If you think you qualify, be sure and get a doctor’s note to confirm your wife’s condition and your doctor’s advice. Of course, you should also keep excellent receipts. Finally, talk to your own tax professional about your circumstances; he or she is in the best position to know whether taking the deduction makes sense for you.
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