Imitate the president: Deduct your underwear

March 28, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

With the income tax deadline only a few weeks off, it's time for you to start thinking about ways to itemize deductions and save a few dollars. And I might be able to help.

First, I must admit that I'm not a tax expert, or even a novice. A friend who is an accountant comes over, scoops up the paperwork, feeds the numbers into his computer, and I write a check.

For people smart enough to do it themselves, there are books, computer programs and columns in financial newspapers and magazines that offer advice.

But I doubt if any of these products will provide the tip I'm going to give you.

Think underwear.

Yes, that simple, humble piece of clothing most of us wear beneath our outer garments could represent a tidy savings on your tax bill.

I first discovered this about eight months ago, when it was disclosed that while governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton would donate his used shorts to Salvation Army or Goodwill resale shops and take a $4 tax deduction for each pair.

And it has since been revealed that he gave away long underwear and valued it for tax purposes at $12 per long john. (I don't know if they were with or without back flaps, or whether it matters.)

This filled me with admiration for Clinton's financial acumen, and regret that my father didn't have the means to send me to Yale Law School so I could become that smart.

Not that I think a Yale education would have led me to the White House, but it would have given me an appreciation for the underlying value of my underwear.

Because I am older than Clinton, I've been paying income taxes a lot longer: since I was 16.

All those years, I bought underwear, wore it, threw it away, bought new underwear, wore it, threw it away. I can't even guess how many hundreds or thousands of pairs of underwear I discarded over those decades.

And it pains me to think of all the tax dollars I could have retained. Why, by now I could be retired and taking brisk daily health walks in Florida or Arkansas. But it isn't too late. Not for me or you.

There are 250 million people in this country. Many are infants in diapers, which might not have any tax value, but the majority are adults who own underwear. Most of us live within driving distance of some sort of charitable resale outlet.

So I would guess that at least 150 million Americans have used underwear that they could give away.

A conservative guess would be that each person replaces at least five or six pairs a year.

That would be about 900 million pairs of underwear. Almost a billion.

If we use the $4 value that Clinton placed on his underwear, we are now talking about $3.6 billion.

Then there are all those hardy souls in the wintry states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, the Dakotas, upstate New York, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and all through New England.

Think of the millions of pairs of long underwear that are worn in these states. At $12 a long john, we're talking big-time money.

So the potential write-offs for the nation's used underwear would easily exceed $4 billion.

How much money would American taxpayers save with the underwear write-off? We can make a conservative guess and say the average bracket would be about 25 percent.

That means Americans could save $1 billion in taxes from used underwear alone. That's $1 billion in our pockets, $1 billion we could put back into the economy by buying things. Maybe even new underwear. Why, that pair of shorts is almost a symbol of patriotism.

However, there could be a slight problem. Most tax experts say that $4 for briefs and $12 for long johns are outrageously inflated deductions.

And a survey I did of Arkansas thrift stores established that used underwear sells for about two bits, or maybe 50 cents.

But who do you want to believe? Some accountant or thrift store manager?

So give those skivvies away and write them off.

And if you get audited, it should be no problem. Just tell the tax guy:

"Hey, Bill sent me."

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