Can a Gym Membership Be Considered a Deduction for Federal Taxes?

by Gail Cohen

    The question is so popular, the Internal Revenue Service devotes a sliver of its Section 502 Code to answering the question of whether a gym membership can be deducted when filing a federal tax return. It’s easy to see why the subject is important enough to be included. Fitness is a big concern for people of all ages in this society and exercise offers numerous benefits. That stated, the answer to the question about whether gym membership fees are deductible is “No, but …”

    IRS Policy

    The IRS typically prohibits deducting the cost of a gym membership because it defines this type of expense as a business, pleasure or social experience rather than a therapeutic environment. Even if you use the facility to improve your general physical health, treat an ailment or perk up your mental health, it still can’t be written off. That said, one of the criteria the IRS considers when deciding if a gym membership or program is eligible for a deduction has to do with tenure: If you already belong to the facility before you try to write it off, the deduction could be a tough sell.

    Possible Exceptions

    If your doctor prescribes regular workouts requiring a gym membership as part of your therapy for weight loss, disease — e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular ailments or hypertension, for example — or mental rehabilitation, the condition could qualify as a deduction if you can offer proof that your doctor “has ordered you to perform a specific physical activity due to a diagnosed medical condition,” according to Certified Public Accountant Tara Haas. Prove this situation and in most cases you can deduct only the fees you paid for the program that helps you regain your health, not your membership fees, adds Haas.

    Letter of Medical Necessity

    If you decide to claim gym or program fees when filing your federal return, include a letter of medical necessity that includes both a diagnosis and detailed treatment plan crafted by a licensed health care professional. “A recommended treatment described as “regular or daily exercise” is not enough information,” according to the Federal Flexible Spending Account (FSAFEDS) Summary of Benefits. The prescribing doctor must included more detail. “I recommend an exercise program through a gym membership for the next six months to alleviate the patient’s hypertension,” says a sample letter of medical necessity posted on the FSAFEDS website. The letter must also include a time limit (12 months, maximum) and be signed and dated by the physician.

    Insurance Alternative

    Assuming you cannot find a way to deduct your gym membership because your tax preparer says no or you have no prescription or letter of medical necessity that supports a deduction, you can still recoup some of the expenses associated with your gym membership if therapeutic use is a reimbursed expense attached to your corporate or personal health insurance plan. Check your manual. Some health plans offer generous benefits and a more liberal interpretation of “therapeutic need” than does the IRS and you don’t have to worry about whether you could be audited if your gym membership expense is rejected.

    Photo Credits

    • old gym shoes image by robert mobley from Fotolia.com

    About the Author

    Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.

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