Tax season is upon us, and if you are a model, it can be very frustrating & confusing when it comes time to file. The modeling industry is a grey area as far as the taxation system is concerned because there are no actual black and white rules for what you can or can't claim, making it a slippery slope for write-offs/deductions.
As a model, you're considered a self-employed individual and therefore can deduct business expenses from your modeling income. Tax write-offs are important because they may be able to get you a percentage of the amount deducted from your paychecks due to taxes back in the form of a tax refund. However, it is imperative to note that not everything can be considered a write-off, and lying or including things that aren't business-related can get you into trouble with the IRS.
Before we get too far into this post, I want to throw out a disclaimer >> I am NOT a CPA or a tax professional. The below information is just general advice as to what you may be able to claim on your tax return based on my personal experiences in filing my taxes. I highly recommend that you meet with a tax professional to review what you can & can't claim as expenses, as everyone's circumstances are different.
As I mentioned above, writing off expenses is a slippery slope for models because, in the event of being audited by the IRS, you need to have adequate proof that the products and services you spent money on were exclusively related to your modeling work. According to the IRS website, your deducted expenses must be considered a typical or necessary expense. Which means you need to err on the side of caution and don't deduct easily arguable items. Try to imagine convincing an IRS agent that getting regular facials & buying cute shoes is solely a modeling expense... Good luck with that!
Below is a list of some items that you may be able to deduct and some 'red flag' items that may not be so easily sold as a necessary expense. But, again, it is essential to talk to a professional before you officially file your expenses!
Travel/mileage- As a model, sometimes it feels like you live in your car due to all the driving around you have to do! Keep track of the mileage you rack up driving to/from jobs & casting calls so you can use it as a tax write-off! If Uber or public transit is more your mode, keep track of the receipts/tickets as those also count as business expenses.
Clothing/shoes- - If a piece of clothing or specific shoe is requested for paying job, you may be able to claim that. Just be sure to print a copy of the email requesting those items and keep it with the purchase receipt!
**This one is a bit iffy though, read below why I have also listed it as a red flag item!
Phone- You may be able to claim some of your phone bills. This depends on the % used for communicating with clients & agencies via phone & email.
Website/Social media costs- You may be able to claim expenses associated with running your social media accounts. An excellent example of this would be if you pay a photographer to take photos for your Instagram or website to help promote yourself or spend money on paid ads.
Classes- If you pay for any runway or posing workshops, you may be able to deduct the cost as this is an industry-related expense.
I should also mention that you should only do write-offs if you are professionally modeling and earning an income from it, not just doing it as a fun hobby. You will need actual paychecks from bookings as proof of income. TFP shoots and large amounts of social media followers will not be able to save you if you're audited!
Clothing/shoes – I know I listed this one above, but to me, this is a red flag item because it is too hard to argue the need to buy certain clothing items. Even though I know that it is mandatory to have specific clothing items & shoes as a model, convincing the IRS of that need isn't a guaranteed win. Better safe than sorry!
Makeup/hair products: Trying to justify writing off purchases of hair and makeup products is a difficult case to make against the IRS if you happen to get audited because this type of expense isn’t just restricted to your modeling business.
Spa/Grooming services: I don't recommend claiming treatments like a facial, massage, hair removal, manicure, etc. Since many women get these done regularly regardless of their profession, it would be tough to claim these as a business expense. The only time I may claim an appointment is if it has been specially requested for a paid job (for example- a spray tan for a swim shoot). Again, save the receipts & emails!
General Tax Return Tips:
Keep ALL of your receipts: I mean, if I haven't stressed this one enough... You CAN NOT claim things that you do not have a receipt for! Taking the time to set up a filing system for yourself to keep your receipts in order may save you time and money when you are sorting out your return.
Print out emails for each job that requested something specific from you: If they wanted you to get a spray tan, specific shoes, or something else that you already don't have on hand, print off the written request. I like to staple the receipt of whatever I needed to purchase to this request to ensure I don't lose it. This may save you a lot of hassle in the future if you ever need to show proof for your claim!
Don’t fabricate business expenses: Things like personal trips or a pair of designer shoes you just had to have should absolutely not be claimed as a business expense. The IRS is very thorough, and if you ever got audited, the consequences just wouldn’t be worth it.
See a tax specialist- I see a professional every year to help ensure I’ve done everything correctly. She also reviews my claims and will go over anything that may be a potential red flag item.
Filing your taxes is hard enough; being a model takes it to another level. Even if you freelance or only model part-time and have another job, keeping track of your expenses and income is a must and could save you a lot of money in the long run. If you have any questions or particular circumstances, ask a tax professional for their advice.