The IRS gives you a lot of latitude in taking the medical deduction. Breast pumps, acupuncture, and fertility treatments all qualify -- but health club memberships don't. Even you need to lose weight, joining the YMCA or a for-profit health club to get the pounds off doesn't give you a tax break.
The IRS doesn't mention the YMCA when it talks about medical bills, but it flatly rules out deductions for health-club dues. Spending to improve your general health -- buying free weights or walking shoes, for instance -- isn't deductible either. If you use the Y pool, the IRS won't let you write off swimming lessons. Even if a doctor's told you to lose weight or recommended you swim to loosen a stiff muscle, that doesn't make joining a gym or using a pool a medical expense.
If your local Y has a physical therapist and your doctor tells you to get physical therapy -- after surgery, for instance -- the therapy would qualify for a write-off. You can also write off a Y weight-loss program if your doctor orders you to lose weight for a specific disease, such as hypertension. You only get to write off the cost of the programs, though -- you still can't deduct your membership.
Along with saying health club dues are out, the IRS also rejects medical deductuions for groups organized for business, pleasure or recreation. Joining a jogging group to strengthen your leg muscles may be healthy but it won't cut it with the IRS. Related equipment such as a knee brace might qualify, though, if your doctor says you need it to protect your knee. In the Y or outside it, you can't take a deduction unless it's tied to a medically necessary service for a medical condition.
Claiming a Write-Off
Even if you have a deductible expense, that doesn't guarantee you can claim it. You only get medical deductions if you itemize on Schedule A, and you never get to claim all your medical bills. First, figure your adjusted gross income for the year. As of 2013, you take 10 percent of your AGI and subtract that from your qualifying medical bills. Your total deduction is what's left. You can include your spouse's and dependent's bills as part of your deduction if you paid for them.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.