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.
And let’s make sure we understand a few things, ok?
- Unless you have a representation letter in hand, you and I don’t have an attorney-client relationship, capiche? I mean, I’m sure you’re a nice person. I appreciate you stopping by the blog. But it doesn’t mean anything more (I’m having a weird deja vu to a couple of bad dates in college).
- Unfortunately, it is impossible to give comprehensive tax advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. This blog isn’t meant to offer you legal advice. I’m just calling it like it is. If you have real questions – i.e. you’re hiding in a closet while the feds bang on your door – you need to consult with a tax professional. If you live in my corner of the world, that might be me. But see #1.
- I do work at a law firm. Some might even say I’m a partner at said law firm. But this blog is in no way affiliated with my law firm. The other partner and my malpractice carrier insist on it. And I have to live with one of them. And it’s not my malpractice carrier. So, again see #1.
- I’m not responsible for anything anybody says on this blog except me. But play nice. I don’t want to have to throw you out of here (there’s that deja vu to college again).
- And one more thing. I’m not here to help you cheat the system. That should be obvious. But just in case it’s not, the IRS wants me to reiterate that I’m not. So consider this your Circular 230 Notice:
In order to comply with requirements imposed by the IRS, I must inform you that any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this blog is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter that is contained in this blog.
It will also fail to make you rich, lose weight, get white teeth or regrow hair that has been lost. I can’t guarantee dates or life matches (in fact, it’s arguable that if your friends find out that you read a tax blog, you could lose points – but I’m not telling!). I have never made a good stock tip (that I’m aware of) and I can’t buy your gold.
If after all of that, you still have a question, check out my “ask the taxgirl” policy here.