Tax Time Tips: A Guide to Filing as an Actor

4909363For many working actors, tax season can be a one-way ticket to stroke city. Especially if you are new to filing on your own, actor taxes can be overwhelming. Most actors have multiple jobs, and few acting gigs come with your standard W-2. Whether you have yet to file, or you’re looking to make next year easier, here are some tips to help get you started.

  1. Choose the Right Tax Service. If you have the means to pay someone to do this horrific job for you, I highly suggest you do that. However, for the purposes of this article, I am assuming you don’t, or alternately that you are in the throes of some internal struggle of pride that has led you to choose to put yourself through this. No problem. The first thing to do is choose a service. Online filing is by far the most popular, and while there are many services that will allow you to do so, TurboTax is the undisputed Goliath in a sea of David’s obscure cousins. I’m no hero, I go with the giant. While the free version of TurboTax is tempting, I would recommend splurging on the Deluxe—if you need to make itemized deductions (and most performing artists should), this will save you time and headache.
  2. Start Logging Your Mileage. In many cases, you will be able to write off mileage you put towards your career. The requirements are specific, so be sure to research what is acceptable to write off. The more detailed records you keep, the better. If you can get in the habit of recording total mileage every January 1st, that will make things easier. I would recommend keeping a mileage journal in your car, perhaps in a calendar, so you can keep track of the dates of auditions and performances. (Also you will want documented proof to back up any claims).
  3. Do You Qualify as a Performing Artist? If enough of your income is from acting work, you could file as a qualified performing artist. Do this if you can! It will allow you to write off actor expenses later.
  4. Keep Your Receipts. It’s a pain, but it’s worth it. Get in the habit of keeping receipts for everything, but especially purchases you make that benefit your acting career. Things like headshots, workshops, classes are no brainers, but remember in certain cases you can write off stage makeup, audition outfits, movies or songs you purchased for research, etc. Any meal or coffee you buy while an Equity or SAG actor is giving you career advice can be written off. If receipts just aren’t going to happen for you, print off bank statements and highlight the relevant purchases. The little stuff adds up, so get serious about it.
  5. Get an Expert Opinion. Ask around. Certainly talk to any CPA’s you happen to know, but also get the opinion of experienced actors. They will know the ins, outs and shortcuts of taxes, and their advice in invaluable.
  6. Put Aside Money Through the Year. Especially if you have any theatre or freelance artist work during the year you will start to pile up the 1099s. If this is a new beast for you, the gist of it is, these are the forms you get for any gig that considers you an independent contractor. Nothing is held out of those paychecks, so if you don’t put it aside yourself, you could end up owing money. No matter how broke you are at the moment, trust me: it is worth it to take a chunk out of that beautiful paycheck and save it for later. And if you overestimate or are a deduction wizard, you might end up with a little leftover!
  7. Block Out Time. Filing by yourself takes time. If you can, try not to wait till the last minute. Block out a day or three when you can log some quality hours. Corral your forms ahead of time, make some herbal tea, put on soothing music and just accept that you will be staring at your computer for way too many hours. The earlier you start, the less panicked you will be, and the more margin for error you allow yourself.

 

Taxes can be a pain. But the good news is, every year you will get more experienced and efficient. The big thing to keep in mind is that the more you can set yourself up for success throughout the year by keeping records and managing your funds, the quicker and more painless the filing process will be. Also, there is nothing that makes you feel more like a real adult than competently filing your own taxes. Chase that rush, starlets. It can be yours.

 

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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