The personal finance website mint.com reports the average American woman spends $15,000 on makeup in her lifetime, including $3,770 on mascara, $2,750 on eyeshadow, and $1,780 on lipstick. Americans spent $33.3 billion on cosmetics and other beauty products in 2010 alone. (“Being a woman is easy and inexpensive,” said no one, ever.)
Our friends at the Internal Revenue Service don’t bat an eyelash at all that spending. Cosmetics companies pay billions in taxes. And the product they sell is a nondeductible personal item. But that doesn’t stop people from trying — including, we now learn, former United States Senator Scott Brown.
Brown has always been an ambitious sort. In 2010, after a career as a lawyer and state legislator, he won a special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy, becoming the first Republican Senator from Massachusetts since 1972. Then, in 2012, he lost his reelection bid to former Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren. Following his defeat, he moved north to New Hampshire and announced plans to run from the Granite State.
But Brown has always had a bit of a vain streak, too. At age 22, while studying law at Boston College, he won Cosmopolitan’s “Sexiest Man in America” contest, posing nude for the magazine’s centerfold. So it can’t have come as too much of a surprise when he made six years of tax returns available to reporters and revealed that he deducted $2,149 in 2010 and $1,401 in 2011 for “TV makeup and grooming” to help promote his memoirs.
At first blush, deducting makeup might seem perfectly appropriate. Brown probably wouldn’t wear it if he hadn’t been promoting his book. The problem here is that the rules say that’s not enough. IRS Publication 529 reports that you can deduct the cost of work clothes if: 1) “you must wear them as a condition of your employment” and 2) “the clothes are not suitable for everyday wear.” Courts have extended this foundation to grooming expenses, holding that they’re inherently personal and nondeductible.
Most recently, the Tax Court reviewed the case of Anietra Hamper, who worked as a morning and noon news anchor for WNBS-TV in Columbus. Her station’s Women’s Wardrobe Guidelines required her to maintain her hair in a neat and professional cut and keep her fingernails at a reasonable length, finished with conservatively colored polish. Yet the Court smeared off thousands in deductions she took for contact lenses, makeup, haircuts, manicures, and teeth whitening.
Last week, a Democratic watchdog group by the name of the American Democracy Legal Fund sent a letter asking the IRS to investigate Brown’s deductions and citing a litany of cases holding that personal grooming and makeup expenses are nondeductible. Brown’s campaign glossed over the letter as a partisan attack. But Brown is polling about four points behind incumbent Jeanne Shaheen, in a close election that will help determine which party controls the Senate for the final two years of President Obama’s administration. This sort of negative publicity can’t help Brown’s chances. And it does nothing to conceal the stereotype of politicians as slick, blow-dried phonies.
Only time will tell if the IRS takes up Brown’s case, or if the controversy affects his election. In the meantime, call us if you’re worried about blemishes in your finances. We’ll give you the plan you need to look flawless under the hottest lights!