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‘Tis The Season (No, Not That One): An Actor’s Guide to Taxes

Marissa Alaniz 

There are two important seasons for actors: Awards and Tax. And they are both upon us! Deciphering W-2s and other such legalese can feel insurmountable – we are actors after all, not accountants! – and it’s no secret that a lot of money goes into becoming an actor. But did you know that a lot of these expenses can be written off on your taxes? There are the obvious write-offs: pens, journals, paper, anything that falls under the proverbial umbrella of “office supply miscellanea”. But I’m here to show you that there are more actor-specific write-offs that you can use to your advantage. 

1. Haircuts, Colors, or Other Appearance Upkeep

It’s important that you maintain the look you had for your most recent headshots and, of course, that your headshots represent how you look on your best day. The initial costs of haircuts, colors, and other beautifications are eligible for write-offs (though the maintenance costs are not). If a purchase is necessary in order to keep you employable and cast-able, it qualifies as a write-off. Make sure you keep your salon receipts! 

2. Headshot Costs 

Getting new headshots, buying a headshot outfit, hiring a hair and makeup artist, paying for transportation to get to a shoot, booking a studio, paying for photo retouches, and having your photos printed are expenses that pile up quickly. You may have heard that your headshot is your ticket to getting jobs – and this is very true. Therefore, any expenses related to your headshots count as tax write-offs. In the age of Venmo, be sure to talk with your photographer and hair/makeup artist to see if they can send you a receipt or invoice for the shoot to give to your accountant.

3. Classes, Webinars, or Other Educational Costs

According to TurboTax, any “[t]uition, fees and other expenses paid for your online classes may be included as part of the American Opportunity Tax Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit”. So whether you’re taking an online Method Acting class or you have signed up for more intensive, in-person classes, you can certainly speak to your accountant about writing these educational endeavors off. Likewise, any fees associated with higher learning expenses – including, but not limited to, supplies, application fees, movement clothes and dance shoes, assigned texts like plays and textbooks, transportation to and from class, or WiFi and electricity bills for online schooling – may be eligible for tax credit and write-offs. 

4. Memberships and Self Taping Equipment 

Any service or necessary equipment that helps you find jobs can be eligible for a tax write-off. Therefore, your blue screen backdrop for self tapes, your Backstage or Actors Access fees, your ring light, and even the cost of your iPhone or camera (if purchased during the taxable period) may be eligible. As always, save your receipts and let your accountant know that you are an actor and that these supplies are necessary for your professional career.

5. Tickets and Streaming Services

Yes. Going to the movies or a play counts as a write-off. Those of us in the entertainment industry are very lucky to be able to go to the movies and call it ‘research’. Going to the movies or the theatre counts as keeping up-to-date on the current events of our chosen field. This also includes subscriptions to streaming services like HBO Max, Netflix, and Hulu.

6. Other Various Expenses 

The costs of being an actor are endless. This is why it’s important to keep organized and detailed receipts (a receipt organizer is, by the way, another write-off). Other expenses that may apply to you are commissions paid to agents, costumes for shows, subway fare and gas money to and from auditions, stamps and other mailing expenses, food you purchase while getting advice from a Union actor or other industry professional, manager fees, and union dues. 

Tax season is a hectic time for everyone, but those with non-traditional jobs and gig-based income face even more challenges and uncertainty. This is why it is incredibly important to find a trustworthy accountant who is experienced with working with actors. In cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, finding such an accountant is relatively easy. In smaller markets, this can be a challenge. Best practice is to always ask your accountant if they have worked with actors in the past, be ready to present your (many, many) receipts to them, and have your reasonable justifications for why each expense counts as a write-off. Any good accountant will be willing to work with you. 

For more advice on filing taxes as an artist, check out this article from Backstage. It offers a more in-depth step-by-step guide to navigating the confusing landscape of the American tax system.

Happy filing!