Tax Time: 5 Tips to Help Actors Survive the Tax Season

5265826It’s that time again! Some of you have your lives together and probably filed February 1st, sipped your chamomile tea, and smiled in gentle satisfaction as you closed the book on your perfectly organized records.


The rest of us are weeping quietly and rocking ourselves to numb oblivion in an ice-cold shower.


But don’t panic! Taxes for freelance artists can seem like taking on a homicidal hydra armed only with idealism and friendship bracelets, but there are ways to soothe the beast. Here are some quick tips to help you take charge of your taxes.


  1. Keep an Eye on Your 1099s. Independent contract work is the devil. There, I said it. It is also often linked to artistically fulfilling projects, so to everyone else who has sold their souls many times over, just know that the price is high. For those of you who have never been cursed with this arrangement, 1099 gigs do not take out money for federal or state taxes. That part is up to you. The best thing to do is probably to take out the money from each gig immediately and put it in a seperate savings or account. Maybe look into paying it quarterly. Keep track of how many you’re racking up because they will come back to haunt you.
  2. Watch your W-2s Like a Hawk. Thank God your steady day job is a W-2, enough of your income comes from that to balance out the 1099s, right? Not necessarily. Some employers take out more than others. Remember way back in the stone ages when you filled out your W-2, got to the confusing witholdings bit, and was like “screw it, 1 or 0, what’s the difference?” The difference is considerable, my friend.
  3. Maybe Pay an Expert. I know, I know. None of us are making enough as it is. Carving out fees from your already pitiful refund can seem about as smart as hacking off a digit. But there is some wisdom to the adage “better safe than sorry.” If you’re at a point where you are overwhelmed and just crossing your fingers you didn’t miss anything on TurboTax, it might be worth looking into a filing service. Do your research. Ask around to fellow artists. Chances are big services might not be cost effective if you have complications (a bunch of 1099s, money made out of state, etc. etc.). Find someone who has worked with actors or freelance artists before.
  4. Look for Deductions. In the past, qualified performing artists (basically, actors who made the majority of their income from acting) have been able to write off many work-related expenses. (Exhaustive lists can be found online). Recent legislation has changed what might be permissible on this front going forward. Read up, arm yourself with knowledge, and notate deductions through the year.
  5. Keep Meticulous Records. All those deductions require proof. Save your receipts. Keep them organized and notated. Print bank statements as backup. Start building habits in now. Record your mileage on the first of the year. Anything you write off you must be able to prove. And keeping good records will help you stay organized as you juggle your myriad of forms and documents. It may seem tedious at the time but it will save you hours of stressful work later.


As with anything, artist taxes seem overwhelming at the outset, but with a little preparation, you can break it down into something manageable. Good luck!


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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

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