Can I Deduct the Cost of My Diet Program?

In this tough economy, everyone wants to minimize taxes by finding more deductions. One category of deductions for those that itemize is medical expenses. Medical expenses are entered in the first section of Schedule A of Form 1040. Along with other items like mortgage interest, real estate taxes and charitable contributions, medical expenses can reduce your taxable income. And lower taxable income means lower taxes.

So what are qualified medical expenses? The IRS defines them as expenses for the prevention or treatment of physical or mental defects or illnesses. Generally, things like doctor and dentist fees, hospital services, prescription drugs, transportation for medical care, treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as various items like eyeglasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, etc. are deductible as medical expenses.

When Weight Loss is Deductible

In some cases, costs of weight-loss programs can even be deductible. However, before writing off the costs of those Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem meals, be aware that there are some pretty strict requirements. If you are just looking to improve your health or appearance or even if a doctor recommends a weight-loss program for your overall well-being, the costs will not be deductible.

The IRS only allows deductions for these programs if they are treating a specific medical condition, such as hypertension or obesity, that has been diagnosed by a physician. This would include membership fees and meeting fees in a weight-loss program. However, gym, health club and spa dues are not deductible expenses, though separate fees for weight-loss activities can be deducted. Generally, the cost of diet foods and beverages will not be deductible because they are substituted for foods that meet normal nutritional needs.

Many Restrictions Apply

Occasionally, special foods can be deductible expenses; however, they must meet three criteria. First, they must not satisfy normal nutritional needs. Secondly, they must alleviate or treat an illness. Third, a doctor must substantiate the need for the special food. Even if foods meet all three criteria, only the cost that exceeds the cost of a normal diet is deductible.

You Must Meet the Medical Threshold First

Further, medical expenses must meet a threshold before they can be included on Schedule A; they must exceed 7.5% of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI). So, for example, if a taxpayer’s AGI is $50,000, total medical expenses must exceed $3,750 before they can be included as itemized deductions. With the strict rules on deducting the cost of weight-loss programs and the relatively high threshold for medical expense deductions, in most cases, diet and weight-loss program expenses will not be deductible against federal income taxes. Still, for a taxpayer with relatively high medical bills who meets the IRS requirements for weight-loss program expenses, it might be worth calculating the possible deduction. Every little bit helps.