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Always Be Mindful of the IRS’s Patience

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A recent column, “IRS Puts a Stop to Doctor’s Medical Deductions,” Dec. 3rd 2020, notes that much of the terminology the IRS uses is subject to at least some interpretation. Predictably, the term, “medical deduction” is among them.

Dec 22nd 2020
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Like the previous column and many of nearly-four-hundred other ones I’ve written for AccountingWEB.com, this one includes a reminder for taxpayers and their advisors: Always be mindful of limits to the IRS’s patience. Let’s delve into some examples:

Gym memberships. Ordinarily, they’re non-deductible. Suppose, though, that Portia’s physician prescribes gym membership as therapy for her existing cardiac condition. Portia’s payments pass muster under Internal Revenue Code Section 213.

Pre-dinner drinks. The response of many millions of Americans adversely affected by the pandemic crisis is to significantly increase their consumption of liquor and food. Ditto for Portia.

And, to complete the trifecta, let’s not forget depression. More in a moment on the trio, but here’s a situation to note:

A taxpayer subscribes to the notion that that there can be no two opinions about whether daily drinks of whiskey are an appropriate way to relieve her crisis-caused conniptions. Accordingly, they qualify under Section 213. That approach falls flat with the IRS.

An adamant agency says self-prescribed drinks are non-deductible personal expenses and are prohibited by Code Section 262. But, here again, the outlays qualify as deductible when her doctor prescribes daily drinks of whiskey for relief of a heart ailment.

Special diets. Here, too, the rules are tricky. The IRS’s long-standing position is that write-offs for the cost of special food or beverages prescribed by Portia’s physician are only allowable if they supplement her normal diet and don’t merely substitute for her usual food or beverages.

Let’s say her physician places Portia on a special diet because of an ulcer condition. In contrast to the whiskey prescribed for a heart condition, the special diet’s cost isn’t deductible. The snag is that it merely replaces the food she would ordinarily consume.

Some Thoughts on 2020's Christmas Letters

My wife and I aren’t the kind of people who send those lengthy annual letters that tell friends more than they ever wanted to know, to lift a line from Garrison Keillor, about what the senders and their children, and grandchildren have accomplished and acquired.

An example: Do their accounts of vacations ever acknowledge that their need to economize explain why they venture into sketchy neighborhoods, where they stay at reasonably-priced places that sequester guests in diminutive rooms with folding beds and windows that look out on dirty walls?  Nope.

All stays are at top-tier resorts, places where they socialize with assorted A-listers and bold-face names, like cinema celebrities, corporate chieftains, and media moguls. Do these self-proclaimed gourmands ever mention the inexpensive dinners they had at Le Greasy Spoon? All meals are at five-star restaurants.

Let’s pivot to why 2020 is a year like no other in almost a century. It’s largely because of the pandemic crisis, an event that has caused 2020 to be an annus horribilis, to lift another line, this one from Queen Elizabeth II, who heaped blame on herself for the Royal Family’s woes. They included the divorces of Prince Andrew from the Duchess of York and Prince Charles from Princess Diana and a devastating fire at Windsor Castle that destroyed 115 rooms.

The Queen’s comment prompted the wife and me to write a letter that eighty-sixes accomplishments and instead reflects on all of those print and electronic articles that go into mind-numbing detail about how the crisis has adversely affected millions of American households.

The articles focus on interviews of families overwhelmed, for the most part, by three kinds of problems: alcoholism and obesity (because they increase their drinking and consumption of food) and depression.

Why are they depressed? Because they wear masks and practice social distancing in accordance with the advice of Anthony Stephen Fauci, an American physician and immunologist who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. His stint started when Republican Ronald Wilson Regan was president.

We’ll finish our discussion of the three problems with news that is bad and good.

What’s bad: All three problems plague all too many households. 

What’s good: Unlike those households, ours completely sidestepped one of those problems. The other two are inconsequential annoyances not worth mentioning. Our hope is that you and yours have done equally well.

Best Wishes Dear Readers for a Happy New Year. I'm someone who keeps creditors at bay and bread on the table only because I've “a certain talent” for articles that demystify the Internal Revenue Code. In the course of five decades, I've written several thousand articles. They've appeared in print publications, such as Playboy, Reader's Digest and Vogue and in electronic outfits, most notably in AccountingWEB, where my articles debuted in April of 2014. Delve into its archive of more than 350 of those articles.

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