Weirdest Tax Deductions, From TurboTax

PHOTO: Under certain circumstances, the cost of going on safari may be tax deductible.PlayGetty Images
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intro: The U.S. tax code runs to more than 73,000 pages, and Bob Meighan, vice president of customer advocacy for TurboTax, says 10,000 of them have been added in just the past five years. "It's growing," this master of understatement says.

An organism so large, you'd have to think, must harbor countless cellular mutations. Meighan is happy to confirm the tax code does, some in the form of peculiar but permissible deductions.

This year's catalog of weird deductibles, compiled by TurboTax, includes the following:

quicklist: 1 title: Conventions in Bermuda text: You and your fellow conventioneers can wiggle your pinkies in the pink sand (between the serious breakout sessions, of course), and deduct your travel costs without having to justify to the IRS why Bermuda was the place you had to go. The same holds true for other Caribbean nations, including Barbados and Grenada. Meetings held in Canada, Mexico or in a U.S. possession also qualify. Convene in Paris, though, or Moscow, and you'd better be able to explain why that, and not Bakersfield, Calif., was the place you had to travel.

How did this strange deduction come to be? "Somebody had to have been lobbying for it," Meighan speculates, "some tourism bureau, some hotel entity."

quicklist: 2 title: Clarinets, and the music lessons necessary thereto text: TurboTax says taxpayers can thank the orthodontists for this one. If your doctor prescribes playing the clarinet as the solution to your child's overbite, then the instrument and any necessary lessons are deductible. Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were born too early. The clarinet deduction did not kick in until 1962.

quicklist: 3 title: The costs of a suspect's defense, if related to his business text: Somebody on trial for shoplifting, say, might permissibly deduct his lawyer bills, on the argument that they were incurred to protect the criminal's source of income, e.g., shoplifting. "But you'd be pushing the envelope there," Meighan says.

quicklist: 4 title: Deadbeat debts text: If you lend money to a friend, and the friend stiffs you, you're in luck, at least for IRS purposes. You can write off the debt, TurboTax says. Deadbeat personal loans, however, are different from deadbeat business loans: A personal loan gone bad must be 100 percent uncollectible for it to qualify.

quicklist: 5 title: Swimming pools text: Your doctor must prescribe it for your health, Meighan says, but if he or she does, then your swimming pool is deductible, to the extent its cost exceeds the value that it adds to your home. TurboTax recounts the case of a taxpayer with emphysema who built a pool after his doctor prescribed the patient get more exercise. Swimming improved the man's breathing, and a tax court judged the pool costs deductible.

quicklist: 6 title: Getting thin text: In 2002, according to TurboTax, the IRS ruled that obesity is a medical disease requiring treatment and, further, that such treatments are deductible. If the treatment's cost exceeds 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income, it qualifies. Bariatric surgery, for example, would qualify.

quicklist: 7 title: Safaris text: Trips necessary to one's business, Meighan says, are deductible. Let's suppose you run a petting zoo outside Chicago, and that what is being petted is a zebra. You go on safari to Kenya (or to wherever else, outside Chicago, zebra live). To the extent the safari relates to your zoo, Meighan says, it's deductible -- maybe you're learning more about the animal's habitat, so you can better re-create in The Loop.

In a kind of "two-for," there's a further deduction the proprietor can claim: animal depreciation. That zebra isn't going to live forever. As it ages, its decrease in value can be deducted. Probably you would use the IRS' zebra-depreciation form, Z-26. We're only guessing on that last part, though.