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Aside from being too damn high, our taxes are also too damn complex—more complex than the tax codes in other countries. It takes individuals an average of 13 hours to prepare their tax returns each year, and even so, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reports 17 million errors in 2022 alone. Adding to that complexity is the fact that the tax code changes every year. It’s no wonder most people have to rely on tax prep software or an expensive accountant to get their taxes done.

Worst of all, the complexity of our tax system means we’re bound to miss out on opportunities to save money. There are a lot of things you can claim as deductions on your taxes, especially if they’re professional expenses (a bodybuilder managed to deduct nearly $14,000 from his taxes for body oil he’d purchased, for example) or medical expenses (if you have a condition that can be benefited from installing a pool in your backyard, for example, you can claim the pool as an expense). But there’s a short list of stuff you can claim on your taxes that will probably come as quite the surprise.


When you hear the word “ransom” you might think of billionaires or celebrities being kidnapped (or their very expensive dogs), but these days we’re all potential victims of ransomware, which encrypts a hard drive and demands a payment for the key. If you fall victim to a scam like that, there’s at least a tiny silver lining: Your ransom payment is very likely tax deductible, especially if it involves a business (and if you’re a freelancer of some sort, remember that you are a business). That’s because ransom is considered a form of theft. You’ll probably have to prove the ransom was paid, but getting at least some of your money back can take the sting out of getting got.


No, you can’t just submit all your pet’s veterinary bills and food bills. But if you can believably claim that your pet plays some sort of official function, you can probably claim at least some of the expense of keeping them. For example:

  • If your pet is officially a service animal or emotional support animal, you can claim them on your taxes. You can’t simply submit that your dog is an “emotional support” animal, however—you’ll need a legit diagnosis to make this work.

  • If you acquired an animal to perform a specific function, like a guard dog or a cat brought in to bring a local mouse problem under control, you can probably claim their upkeep as a business expense (sorry, even if your fierce husky’s bark keeps your home safe at night, it probably won’t fly as a personal deduction). Keep in mind that the breed of dog will matter here—the IRS won’t believe your tiny, shivering lapdog is keeping your home or business safe.

  • If you have to move because of a job change, depending on how far away you have to move and how many hours you work at your job, you might be able to claim your pet’s moving expenses on your taxes.

Sales tax

It’s kind of mind-bending, but you can claim taxes you’ve paid on your federal taxes. If you’ve heard of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, you might know that you can claim taxes paid to states or local governments. But you might have the option to claim sales taxes instead (you generally can’t claim both). The choice to claim sales taxes instead of other taxes comes down to a) whether your state has an income tax and b) how much sales tax you paid last year. If you made a big purchase and got walloped with a huge sales tax on it, this might be the move.

Health insurance

If you’re self-employed, you’re familiar with the horrors of finding and paying for your own health insurance. Even after the Affordable Care Act of 2014 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, it’s still a lot of money that you really have zero choice but to pay. The good news is that if you’re self-employed you can also deduct 100% of your health insurance premiums, which can really reduce the amount of federal tax you owe.

Home sale

Did you sell a house last year? You probably know that you can exclude $250,000 of the sale price from your income ($500,000 if you’re married and filing jointly). But you can also reduce the taxable income from the sale with most of the costs incurred by the act of selling the house, including:

  • Commissions paid to real estate agents

  • Legal fees

  • Bank and escrow fees

  • Advertising spend

  • Home staging

  • Repairs and renovations, as long as they were made within 90 days of closing

Gambling losses

The idea of getting something back for your gambling losses seems to go against the idea of what gambling is, but there you have it: If you’re a “casual gambler” (i.e., you don’t make a living from gambling), just as you have to declare your winnings as income, you can claim your losses on your taxes. The main thing to keep in mind is that you can only claim losses up to the amount of your winnings (so if you won $50,000 last year but lost $75,000, you can only claim $50,000 worth of losses)—and you have to have receipts.

Bad debts

You don’t have to be a business to claim a bad debt on your taxes. If you loaned money or paid for a service you didn’t receive, you can claim the loss on your taxes as a nonbusiness bad debt reduction. You have to be able to prove the debt, prove you made good faith attempts to collect, and provide a detailed description. If it’s money you lent to someone, you’ll also have to convince the IRS that it was a loan and not simply a gift you’ve come to regret—and gifts aren’t tax deductible. That usually means interest is charged, or that you have a document laying out the terms of the loan.

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