Tag Archives: IRS

Is the gluten-free tax break broken?

Tax season is upon us! This year, even the IRS is procrastinating: because of last year’s shutdown, the opening date has shifted to January 31st, although free-filing opens today. But I never submit my tax forms until the very last possible moment, anyway. Instead, I spend every day till the drop-deadline thinking, “I should really do my taxes.”

Some people like to get it over with. Me, I prefer a constant, underlying, slow-burning stress culminating in a miserable, last-minute sprint to the finish line, followed by form letters from the IRS demanding I fix the sloppy errors I made. That way, I can enjoy tax season year-round. (Just another instance of that procrastination problem I’m working on.)

Since the deadline is April 15th, it’s nowhere near time for me to do anything about my taxes, but I’m at least thinking about them.

This year, my mind is on the gluten-free tax deduction (more info on that here). How worthwhile is it to count up my medical (including more expensive food) expenses, figure out if they exceed 7.5% 10% of my adjusted gross annual income, and file that extra piece of paper on the last day possible?

[Edit, 1/25: According to the IRS, it’s actually 10%, not the often-cited 7.5%, which applies only to those who are, or whose spouse is, over 65 years old.]

Since this was my year of diagnosis, I might be in a good place to qualify: My medical expenses included about a billion copays for doctor’s appointments and exams. A billion times $30 definitely exceeds 7.5% 10% of my income.

Plus, though I rarely buy packaged gluten-free food products, I do pay more for certified GF grains, beans, breakfast cereals, etc. I also buy staples with no direct analogue, like my largely unused package of xanthan gum, which are entirely deductible. (For items like sorghum flour, I’m less certain: there’s no direct analogue, but wheat flour is close. Anyone know the deal?)

If my record-keeping last year had been a little more organized than stuffing all of my receipts into my tote bag, allowing the tote bag to get rained on, then throwing out the mass of soggy paper, I could tell you if those extra pennies added up enough.

But I know I’d hit the benchmark if I could add in other hidden costs of a gluten-free diet that the law doesn’t address. For example:

  • The difference between the cheapest beer and the cheapest GF drink choice at every bar. This is always at least $1, and at Housing Works I recently paid $7 for the house white—more than double the price of a $3 PBR. At least it went to a good cause.
  • All the chocolate I’ve had to buy myself when I feel sad about having a disease
  • My smartphone, whose purchase I justified primarily to be able to research foods on the fly (though I use it for way more)
  • Gluten-free restaurants, which are always, always, always more expensive than the restaurants I used to frequent
  • Any of the far-too-generous number of dollars family and friends have laid out to allow me to feel safe eating at their homes
  • The all-new pans, containers, utensils, pantry staples, etc., that I bought in case the old ones were contaminated
  • My time—which is money, if not all that much in my case—spent:
    • Cooking my own meals, even when I really, really want takeout
    • Reading package labels, researching online, and calling manufacturers directly
    • Explaining to people why I can’t eat X, Y, and Z
    • . . . and why I can still eat Q, R, and S
  • Damages for my years spent sick, miserable, and undiagnosed

All that considered, I’d only really be happy paying no taxes at all—a gluten-free free lunch—or, maybe the government could pay me to be gluten-free. After all, improved health makes me a more productive member of society. The eligible write-offs don’t even begin to cover it.

Is that so much to ask? (Throw in the NCGS folks, too, whydoncha.)
Original photo @ Darya Mead | Flickr

Of course, I know everyone has to make purchases they wish they didn’t, spend time doing stuff they’d rather not, and generally speaking lead a life that doesn’t allow for enough pursuit of happiness. Having celiac disease isn’t the worst way to have to do all that, and, without getting too far into politics here, I’m happy enough to pay taxes in theory (in practice, I wonder where they’re all going).

Though I’m not sure it’s entirely “broken,” I probably won’t go for the deduction this year. There’s a good discussion of how worthwhile it is on No Gluten, No Problem, which helped talk me out of it. Even if I dug through my bank and Amazon records for something approaching receipts in the case of an audit and tallied it up, I’m not confident I’d find the gluten-free tax break worth my time. Besides, I don’t pay a lot of taxes anyway. I’ll just do what I do best and think about it instead.

Do you apply for the gluten-free tax deduction? Will you this year? Are you a procrastinator or an early bird? And what hidden costs of gluten-free get on your nerves?

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