April 12, 2005 — -- If the Internal Revenue Service reflected real American values, gym membership would be a legitimate medical expense, clothing could be depreciated as it goes out of style and your cat could be listed as a dependent.
With April 15 looming, I'm reminded of one of Homer Simpson's legendary meltdowns:
"OK, I need some deductions," he says, addressing his wife and children. "Marge, if anyone asks, you require 24-hour nursing care, Lisa's a clergyman, Maggie is seven people and Bart was wounded in Vietnam."
If you're rushing to file your tax returns and you've got some strange questions for your accountant, don't be afraid. I asked a few professionals about the most unusual deductions they've been asked about. Maybe this list can shed some light -- and save you some money.
I hasten to add that I haven't mailed in my tax returns yet, and the deductions listed here -- though offered by prominent certified public accountants -- shouldn't take the place of consulting a professional tax preparer.
In other words: If you get called before the IRS, don't drag me along.
1. You can deduct baby oil, if you're strong enough. Even if you're on your feet all day, the baby oil you rub on your swollen tootsies at the end of the day can't be deducted as a business expense. However, if you're a professional bodybuilder -- and you grease up your body for big shows -- you've got a legitimate write-off.
"Looks count in a lot of jobs. But generally, your work clothes and dry cleaning bills aren't an allowable business expense," says John Q. Rodgers, a tax lawyer and CPA in Hermosa Beach, Calif. "It's a little different, however, when you are an entertainer. If your body needs to glisten to be in a show, that's part of your expense of doing business."
Rodgers says he's advised dancers to deduct body-waxing and other procedures considered to be a professional necessity.
2. Don't attempt a "bad dog" deduction. If your car gets totaled in a hurricane, you can deduct its value as the loss of a personal asset. But if your pooch knocks over a chest and destroys your fine china and glassware, the IRS has no pity.
"A loss like this has to be unexpected, and a dog is theoretically expected to sometimes misbehave," says Kathy Burlison of H&R Block in Kansas City.
Of course, teenagers misbehave, too, and in some cases, the IRS is more compassionate. "If your kid wrecks the car, you can deduct the car's value," Burlison says. "It's inconsistent in that way, because as you know, a teenager can be just as out of control as a pet."
3. Nose jobs can be business expenses. Michael Jackson's nose job could be considered a professional deduction if the singer claimed he needed the surgery to reach the high notes on his tax return.
In the 2003 "Living With Michael Jackson" documentary, the "King of Pop" claimed he's had only one nose job -- and that was done to help clear his nasal passage when he sang.
To Cincinnati tax preparer Ed Lyon of Taxtuneup.com, Jackson missed a write-off if he didn't claim that procedure. "I'd suggest any singer in that situation to do that," he says.
4. It's OK to make use of your breast assets. Normally, cosmetic surgery is not deductible. However, if you get breast implants, you won't be turned down flat -- as long as they're especially large implants and you can prove you need them for work.
Exotic dancer Cynthia Hess -- better known as "Chesty Love" -- made tax law history in 1994 when she successfully sued the IRS to take a $2,088 deduction on a boob job that left her with a size-56FF chest.
U.S. Tax Court Judge Joan Seitz Pate noted that Hess increased her income as a result of the surgery and that her cumbersome breasts, weighing 10 pounds each, were so large that she could not derive personal benefit from them. Hess had undergone the surgery "all for the purpose of making money" at an Indiana strip club, and the tax court allowed her to deduct the expense as a "stage prop."
5. Making whoopee can pay. If your doctor prescribes sex therapy, the cost can be deducted as a medical expense, says Lyons. Unfortunately, the IRS won't let you write off a health club membership, even if your doctor and spouse agree that you need to go to a gym.
Taxpayers have obviously tried to write off many healthful activities. In one celebrated tax law case, the cost of clarinet lessons was ruled to be an acceptable deduction, after an orthodontist recommended that a child learn the instrument to correct a severe overbite.
But the IRS has rejected many unorthodox medical expenses. H&R Block lists the following:
6. Legitimate expenses of illegitimate businesses: If you're selling marijuana and cocaine, you can deduct legitimate business expenses. That would include paper clips and office supplies, baggies to package the merchandise, and so forth.
"Just remember, the IRS expects you to declare all your illegal drug income," says Miami-based forensic accountant Stanley Foodman. "Once you're busted, there are tax ramifications."
Illegitimate business expenses -- smuggling contraband, kickbacks to rogue law enforcement officers, etc. -- can't be deducted.
Foodman says he's actually had clients who've listed illegal businesses on their tax returns. One woman described her occupation as "prostitute."
"She wanted to declare all her income and set up a retirement plan," Foodman says. "She was very up-front about how she earned her money."
Many states are getting very specific with taxes on illegal drug sales, so that dealers, once caught, get slapped extra hard for their ill-gotten gains.
In January, Tennessee joined a handful of other states that charge sales tax on illegal drug sales. Among the new tax rates: a $50 per gram tax on cocaine and a $3.50 per gram tax on marijuana (other than stems).
"Luckily for conscientious dealers, the law does not require them to give the names and addresses of their clients," jokes John Abolins, senior vice president of operations at Taxware.com, a provider of tax calculation software.
"It's one more way that governments say crime doesn't pay."
7. Don't soil your tax return. One final tip: When you send in your taxes, don't attempt to be a practical joker.
"We've seen it all," says Denise Azimi of the California Franchise Tax Board.
Over the years, a few people have scrawled nasty notes on their tax returns, along with obscene pictures. A few have even smeared documents with "unspeakably foul" substances, Azimi says.
"If it's bad, we ask the police to pay the sender a visit."
The penalty for soiling a tax return isn't an aggressive audit. "It's just upsetting for people in the mailroom, and they aren't the people you want to vent frustration on," Azimi says. "They don't set policy."
If your actions slow down tax collectors, you'll still be entitled to your tax refund, but the check may have to be passed through the bars of your prison cell.
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. "The Wolf Files" ispublished Tuesdays.