3 Tax Deductions You Can Never Take

By Jacoba Urist. Last updated 15 February 2012. 7 comments
Photo: anieto2k

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I spent a fair share of my mid-twenties lugging around a two-volume set of the Internal Revenue Code to class every day (picture a small woman with two encyclopedia-sized bricks on the subway), so I know first hand just how overwhelming our tax laws can seem. Every tax season, people ask me about the same mythical deductions — stuff they feel they ought to be able to deduct on their tax returns, even though the government doesn't exactly see eye-to-eye with them. While it may be freezing in some parts of the country, tax season is right around the corner, and it pays to take a look at these three common points of confusion before filing this spring.

(See also: 16 Great Tax Deductions You May Have Overlooked)

1. Can I deduct my personal credit card interest?

Nope, unfortunately not. When you make personal charges on your plastic — like going out to eat, trips to the grocery store or Disneyland, really any of the expenses you associate with your daily life — the interest is never deductible.

Here's the source of the misunderstanding. You used to be able to deduct credit card interest. But you can thank President Reagan and Congress (Democrats and Republicans alike) for eliminating the interest deduction for consumer loans, which includes your Mastercard or VISA. They believed that consumer interest deductions generally encouraged folks to overspend and over-borrow, so they changed the law.

People may also be confused because you often can deduct the interest that you pay on the business expenses you put on your credit card.

A note of caution: If you are self-employed or run your own shop, I always recommend having a separate credit card for business purposes (or else it's nearly impossible to calculate which portion of the interest is deductible).

2. Can I deduct my new interview suit or work clothes?

Here's another one I get all the time, especially in the current job market when so many people are out there pounding the pavement, and the cost of getting your foot in the door adds up pretty quickly.

The tax laws are a little tricky here. You can't deduct your new interview outfit (on the theory that you could also wear it for personal use, like to a cocktail party, wedding, date or any other event where you want to look pulled together). And you can't deduct the cost of your ordinary, run-of-the-mill work clothes, either. Think: no deduction for things I could otherwise wear out in public anyway — normal pants, dresses, skirts, shirt — even if you work at a clothing store that asks you to dress nicely while you're on the clock.

But there are some good news. While your fancy interview suit is off limits, you may be able to deduct some of the expenses you rack up looking for a job, like the amount you pay to an employment service, and the cost of preparing and sending out all those resumes under certain circumstances. And there is a clothing deduction exception if you wear a specialized uniform to work and it's not suitable for everyday life. (How many UPS guys are going to whip out their uniforms to wear around town on their day off?)

3. Can I deduct my commuting costs?

Again, this one is a no-go for the IRS. You can't deduct the cost of commuting from your house to your job, on the theory that you choose where you want to live in relation to your workplace and the time in your car or on the train is personal.

But of course, because it's the tax code, there is an exception. People who are self-employed with a home office may be able to write off some of the costs of traveling between their residence and another location where they have work-related business. You may also be able to deduct the costs of going from your job (wherever you work) to other work-related meetings and outings. My advice? Sit down with an accountant or tax professional if you plan on deducting these kinds of costs on your return this April, so you can make sure you're calculating everything properly.

Jacoba Urist is a tax and estate attorney from New York. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and is writing a book "The Happiest Parent" about preparing the best possible future for every child. Follow her on Twitter at @TheHappiestPare.

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Will Chen's picture

Welcome to Wise Bread Jacoba! Thank you for answering these commonly misunderstood "deductions." I have to admit, I also ask my accountant all sorts of questions when I see her, even if it is in a social setting. I hope that isn't super annoying. =)

Ashley Jacobs's picture

Hi Jacoba! Welcome to Wise Bread! Awesome first article. I didn't know you couldn't deduct interview clothes! For some reason I was under the impression job-search expenses could be deducted. That's really useful to know and will save many people from trying to claim that as a deduction!

Guest's picture

Since I work from home, I'm going to have to look into deducting some of my travel costs! I figured I couldn't really do anything like that working from home, but maybe I will be able to save a little bit!

Guest's picture

What I want to see is the ones that you CAN take and people usually do not know about or forget about.

Guest's picture

Number #3 was one that i aways wondered about. Thanks for the clarifications!

Guest's picture

Thanks for the reminder. I am putting tax info together now and need this and other help.

Guest's picture

2011 was the first time my wife and I were able to deduct any of our medical costs. As I worked my way through the tax forms, I was surprised by the number of things that are deductible. Too bad the floor is so high. Even worst, I think the floor is even moving to 10% starting in 2013.