Tax Deductions for Clothing

by Tom Gresham

    Donated used clothing is a common tax deduction, and the Internal Revenue Service has guidelines for what constitutes a tax-deductible donation and the proper way to register those donations on a tax return. In some cases, taxpayers can also claim deductions on certain clothes that they purchase to wear at work, but the tax code does not allow widespread use of this deduction.

    Donated items, including clothes, qualify as tax-deductible only if they are given to "qualifying" organizations. The IRS grants tax-exemption status to certain groups, such as charitable and religious organizations and other nonprofits. Certain other entities also can receive tax-deductible contributions, such as government-operated units that use donations for public purposes. The IRS recommends that taxpayers ask to see an organization's letter from the IRS confirming its tax-exempt status or visit the IRS's online tool, EO Select Check, which lists exempt organizations.

    Taxpayers can claim a deduction on donated clothes as long as the items are in good condition or better. However, an exception exists if taxpayers are claiming a deduction of more than $500 for an item of clothing. The exception might arise if a taxpayer has an expensive gown or pair of shoes that retain considerable value even in less-than-good condition -- for example, a gown that was worn in a famous movie scene. A taxpayer claiming a deduction of more than $500 on donated clothes, however, must have a qualified appraisal to back the claim.

    Taxpayers receive a tax deduction for donated items equal to the estimated fair market value of the items. The IRS places the burden on the taxpayer to determine the fair market value of donated clothes and provides little guidance, except to note that the fair market value of used clothes tends to be significantly less than the clothing's price when bought new. The IRS recommends using the prices in consignment and thrift shops to determine fair prices for clothes. On a federal tax return, deductions for clothing and other non-cash contributions should be included on line 17 of Schedule A.

    The IRS does not allow taxpayers to claim tax deductions for most clothes that they purchase for their own use at work, though there are exceptions. In particular, the clothes must be required as a condition of employment and they must not be suitable for everyday wear. For example, a particular fast-food uniform that is required, and which you could not wear elsewhere because it's covered with the restaurant's logos, would qualify. Safety gear, such as safety glasses or hard hats, also qualifies for a deduction. The definition excludes most types of required work clothes, however, such as business suits or painter overalls.

    Photo Credits

    • green bin used for recycling clothes, notice with instruction, image by hazel proudlove from Fotolia.com

    About the Author

    Tom Gresham is a freelance writer and public relations specialist who has been writing professionally since 1999. His articles have appeared in "The Washington Post," "Virginia Magazine," "Vermont Magazine," "Adirondack Life" and the "Southern Arts Journal," among other publications. He graduated from the University of Virginia.

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