Tax season is here, and as a model, it can be very confusing when it comes time to file. Modeling falls under the entertainment industry umbrella, and since there are no clear-cut rules on what can or can't be claimed as a business expense, it's hard to know where to draw the line.
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 information in this post is for awareness on things you should be tracking and what you may be able to claim on your tax return based on my personal experiences in filing my taxes. I highly recommend meeting with a tax professional to review what you can & can't claim as expenses, as everyone's circumstances are different!
As a model, even if you are signed to an agency, you are considered a contracted or self-employed individual. Therefore, you are your own business, which means that any expenses you have that are business-related may be eligible for a tax deduction. These "write-offs" are essential to track because they can add up throughout the year, so you may get quite a bit of money back on your tax return to make up for it. However, it is important to be aware that not everything can be considered a write-off, and trying to include things that aren't business-related can get you in trouble with the IRS if you are ever audited.
You also must be professionally modeling and earning an income from it, not just doing TFP work or working for "exposure". You will have to have proof of payment to offset the expenses you're attempting to claim, so if you don't have that, you can't prove that you're a working model. (Just another reason you shouldn't always work for free!)
Writing off expenses as a model is a slippery slope because, as I stated above, if you are ever audited, you need to be able to explain how everything you claimed as a business expense was exclusively related to your modeling business. According to the IRS website, your deducted items must be considered a typical or necessary expense, meaning you need to tread carefully when it comes to things that would be hard to convince the IRS are strictly for modeling.
Below is a list of things that you should continuously be tracking and are unarguably business expenses, as well as things that fall into the grey area.
Mileage: This is a must if you're a professional model! Always track your mileage when driving to/from castings, fittings, bookings, meetings, etc. This racks up so fast, and with the cost of gas, any little bit of kickback you can get from this is helpful!
Travel: Any time travel is required for modeling, it is a business expense. Parking fees, plane tickets, public transit fees, Ubers, hotels, meals, etc., should all be tracked and counted as a business expense. HOWEVER, be careful with this! A vacation is not a business expense, so be sure you're not disguising personal vaca as a business trip- you will get in trouble for that! Always keep documentation of why you're traveling (an email from your agency or the client, for example) so you can CYA in an audit.
Phone bill: Since most of us handle business correspondence (emails and phone calls) on our cell phones, a portion of your bill can be written off as a business expense.
Home Office: If you have a designated office space in your home where you're consistently working from, this can also be included as a business expense. Know your square footage of the room as that will be required information to include when filing your taxes. If you do not have a designated home office, do not try to include this!
Website/Social Media costs: If you have an agency website fee or manage your own modeling website and/or social media page, these are business expenses that you should include when filing your taxes.
Photoshoots: As a model, paying to get updated headshots or portfolio images is a necessary part of the job, and it can get quite expensive, so make sure you include these things!
Classes/Workshops: Have you signed up and attended any workshops at The Model Board or paid for any private modeling or acting classes? Those are considered "continued education" and should be included as a business expense.
Grey Area Items
The items listed below are common expenses for models but are also things that are hard to validate as strictly business expenses because they are things that you also may do or use in your every day, non-modeling life. Therefore, when it comes to listing these items as an expense, be sure you keep every bit of documentation that would validate why it is a business expense- such as an email from a client requesting you get a manicure for an upcoming job or your agency asking you to change your hair color.
Clothing/Shoes: This is a grey area item because unless you have a request from your agency or a client for a specific item of clothing or pair of shoes, you can not write off clothing or shoes as a business expense.
Makeup/Hair products: The same goes for hair & makeup products. Since you would most likely use some of these products daily, they can not be written off as a business expense unless you have documentation of a request for a specific product for a modeling job.
Spa Services: Unfortunately, things like facials, spray tans, massages, etc., also can't be written off as a business expense unless it was requested for a booking.
Grooming Services: Things like manicures/pedicures, haircuts/color, hair removal (waxing, laser), etc., are all forms of personal maintenance regardless of what your profession is, so unless there is a documented request for you to get these things done, they can't always be written off as a business expense.
Gym memberships/Personal training: Although being physically fit is often a requirement for models, unfortunately, since it is also a general health requirement, this can't be classified as a business expense.
Cosmetic enhancement/surgery: The pressure for models to look young and have specific physical characteristics is high, but unless it's a medical necessity, things like botox or a nose job can't be listed as a business expense.
If you were paying attention when reading about the grey-area items, you'll notice a common trend- unless there is documentation of a request for a specific item or service that could also be used or done in your non-modeling life, you shouldn't try to list it as a business expense! Again, I can't stress the importance of keeping the documentation and receipts for everything enough. This way, if you're ever audited, you have everything you need to validate the business claim.
Since the entertainment world can be so confusing when it comes to income and business expenses, I strongly recommend seeing a tax professional to ensure you're doing everything correctly and nothing will come back to bite you in the future!