So I was doing a little organizing recently and went through my pile of “tax papers” to see if they were all worth keeping. Amongst them was my donation acknowledgement card from Locks of Love. If you’re not familiar with it, Locks of Love is a 501c3 charity that makes real hair wigs for kids that have lost their hair due to medical issues and cannot afford a real hair wig.
Earlier this year, I donated a 14″ pony-tail of my own hair to Locks of Love, and after talking with the stylist who cut it off, I got curious and poked around the internet to see what my hair’s “cash value” was if I were to sell it on the open market. On sites like buyandsellhair.com, the going rate for a ponytail like the one I sent off seemed to go up to $1,000 or more. Mine was on the higher end, but if you check it out, you can see that the value of hair varies a lot based on things like:
- what color is it?
- straight or curly?
- thick or thin? texture?
- how long is the ponytail to be sold?
- has the hair ever been dyed?
- is the hair still on your head?
- has your hair ever been blow dried? curling irons? straighteners?
- are you a vegetarian?
- do you eat natural foods or have health issues?
The best hair is called “virgin” as in never been touched by anything unnatural (hair dye, heat, etc.). To be perfectly honest – it was a strange corner of the internet that I found myself in.
It was too late for me to sell my hair (I had already stuck it in the mail to Locks of Love), but I made a mental note that apparently hair has a cash value and stuck the donation card in the “taxes” pile when it came in the mail. Heck, I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to deduct a $1,000 in-kind donation on our returns!
Do We Get A $1,000 Deduction?
So when I came across the donation card while organizing, I thought I should at least check with our accountant if it is deductible. Mostly I was concerned because the donation acknowledgement didn’t have a cash value on it (like a goodwill donation receipt), so I didn’t know if I would need to retain additional proof of the hair’s value to get the deduction.
Imagine how sad I was when I got our accountant’s email back.
“You don’t have to keep the acknowledgement card since a donation of hair wouldn’t be deductible anyway. At best the cost of the haircut and the driven mileage would be deductible.”
Turns out, the IRS says you can’t deduct the donation of any body part as an in-kind charitable donation. Which, okay… I guess I can see if they’re trying to maintain that selling organs is illegal and trying to draw distinctions there… but wait. This just seems wrong. You know why? Because if I sold my hair, the IRS would have expected me to pay income taxes on it.
When you donate hair, the IRS says it’s worth $0 so you can’t deduct it. When you sell hair, the IRS says it’s worth whatever you were paid and you better pay income taxes on it!
Talk about your double standards. What’s it worth IRS? $0 or $1000?
It’s Not Just Hair – It’s All Body Parts
Think about egg donation.
In scenario 1, you’ve got a young woman who “donates” her eggs to a couple looking to conceive, and let’s suppose she gets paid $10K. (Back when I was in college, the advertised rates in the student paper started around $10K and climbed from there.) In all likelihood, she’s going to be handed a 1099 MISC form at the end of the “donation” process, and the IRS will know to expect her to pay taxes on that income.
In scenario 2, a couple using IVF finally conceives a family, but still has unused non-fertilized eggs at the cryo-bank. Not embryos, folks! Those eggs cost thousands of dollars to harvest and store – although in this case, the couple was happy to pay since now they have their family. But if they want to donate those unused eggs to a non-profit research lab, are they able to get any sort of tax write off? No. No tax deductions for them!
Why does the IRS get to have it both ways?
Let’s End The Double Standard
I know the US tax code is not really known for its simplicity but the huge double standard here just seems glaringly obvious. I’m not a legislator, so maybe I’m missing a huge helping of other issues, but for the sake of consistency, why not let body parts donated to certified non-profit organizations be deductible if they are over a certain value?
Who wants to start a petition at change.org?
If the double standard remains, I’m going to have a tough decision in another 12-18 months when my hair is ready to be cut again. How is the most value extracted for my hair? By donating it directly to Locks of Love? Or would it be better to sell it on the open market and donate all (or some?) of the money to the charity but keeping a tax deduction for us?
Have you ever bought/sold/donated a body part? (Real hair extensions count, ladies! As do eggs, sperm, blood, plasma…) What do you think about the IRS’s double standard on body parts? Are there any other IRS double standards that you have beef with?