Tax season is upon us, and as a model, it can be very confusing when it comes time to file. Can you consider yourself a “business”? What type of things can you “write off”? Read below for a basic overview on how to approach your taxes as a model!
The modeling industry is a pretty dense grey area as far as the taxation system goes because there are no actual hard rules for what you can or can’t claim, which makes it a very slippery slope when it comes to write-offs/business expenses.
As a model, you’re considered a self-employed individual (basically- a business), which means that you can deduct certain “business expenses” from your modeling income. Why are keeping track of these expenses important? Because they may be able to get you back a percentage of the amount deducted from your paychecks due to taxes in the form of a tax refund. However, it is extremely important to note that not everything can be considered a write off, and lying or including things that aren’t actually business related can get you into a lot of trouble with the IRS.
*Before we get too far into this post, a little disclaimer >> I am NOT a CPA or in any way a tax professional. The below information is just a general overview as to what you may or may not be able to claim on your tax return based on my own personal experiences in filing my own 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 items that are easily arguable (i.e., shoes, makeup…). Try to imagine convincing an IRS agent that getting regular facials and buying designer shoes is solely a modeling expense... yeah good luck with that!
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 form bookings as proof of income, just doing TFP shoots and having large amounts of social media followers will not be able to save you if you’re audited!
Below is a list of some items that you may be able to write off as business expanses, as well as some red flag items that may not so easily pass as a ‘necessary’ expense. Again, it is very important 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 to castings and bookings you have to do. Definitely keep track of the mileage you rack up driving to/from jobs & casting calls as that counts as a tax write off. If Uber or public transit is more your mode, then keep track of the receipts/tickets as those also count as business expenses. Document business miles as follows: (1) Give the date and business purpose of each trip; (2) Note the place to which you traveled; (3) Record the number of business miles; (4) Record your car’s odometer reading at both the beginning and end of the year. Keep receipts for all car operating expenses (i.e. gas, oil, repairs, insurance, etc.) and any reimbursement you received for your expenses. I also like to keep record of the emails/text messages of the bookings and address I have to drive/travel to as proof in case of an audit.
If you have to travel out of town for a job, if your lodging, food and travel expenses (train, plane, etc.) are all things you can write off if they're not being covered by the client. Document out of town expenses by noting the date, destination, and business purpose of your trip. Also keep a detailed record of your expenses – lodging, public transport, meals, etc. Always list meals and lodging separately in your records.
Additinally, any travel you do to try to get signed to a new agency in a different market may be deductible. You do not actually have to obtain a new job/agent in order to deduct the expenses.Out of town job-seeking expenses are deductible only if the main purpose of the trip is to search for a job, not to also have a little vacation.
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 is one of those things that falls in that grey area though, so tread very lightly here. If it’s something that you will or can use outside of that specific job, I probably wouldn’t try to write it off.
Phone- Since most models use their phones to communicate with agents and/or clients, you may be able to write off part of your phone bills. This depends on how much you use your phone for business vs. just everyday life, so it would be a good idea to track your business calls and how much time you spend doing business realted emails on your phone, and possibly get a percentage of your bill covered.
Website/Social media costs- You may be able to claim costs associated with running your social media accounts. A good example of this would be if you pay a photographer to take photos for your Instagram to help promote yourself or spend money on paid ads/promotions. Also, if you don’t have an agency and create a website for your modeling images, that is something that you can write off as a business expense.
Classes- If you pay for any runway or posing workshops or one-on-one coaching, you can deduct the cost as this is an industry related expense. It’s basically the same thing as someone attending a business conference or getting continued education and training for thier job.
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 items of clothing. Even though I know that as a model it is mandatory to have specific clothing items & shoes, 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. You most likely wear makeup and use hair products on a daily basis and would regardless if you were a model or not, so this would definitely be a hard one to argue.
Spa/Grooming services & gym memberships: 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 extremely difficult 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!
Same goes for gym or fitness class memberships. While a model's body is their source of income, many 'normal' people also have gym memberships, so unfortunately it's not a job-specific necessity.
General Record Keeping 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 some kind of filing system for yourself so you can keep your receipts in order may save you time and money when you are sorting out your return. I keep a little pocket folder in the glovebox of my car so if I grab food between jobs or get gas, I can just stick the receipt in there and not have to worry about hunting it down later.
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 of the written request for that. I like to staple the receipt of whatever I needed to purchase to this request to ensure I don’t lose it. Seems like over-kill, but this may save you a lot of hassle in the future if you ever need to show proof for your write-off!
Don’t make up business expenses: Seems like common sense, but I feel like it should be mentioned anyway. Things like personal trips or a pair of designer shoes you have been eyeballing 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 a whole other level. Even if you freelance, 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 special circumstances, be sure to ask a tax professional for their advice.