Performing to Deduct: Tax Rules for Performing Artists

You make your living by performing in front of others, be it through song, dance, spoken word, or some other medium. If you work for a specific venue, you may receive a Form W-2, as they would be considered your employer.

However, if you freelance or receive payments from someone you don’t work for regularly, you are considered self-employed. In these situations, you must report your income on a Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business. The companies who aid you for your services may provide you with a Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income. Any self-employment income greater than $400 is subject to taxation requirements regarding filing of a tax return. You will be responsible for paying self-employment income tax, which you may need to do through estimated tax payments with the IRS.

If you have unreimbursed work expenses, you can possibly claim them as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, which will be subject to a 2% limitation of your adjusted gross income. You’ll need to have copies of all of your receipts to prove your expenses should you get audited. Some performance related deductions include:

  • Any expenses incurred from the creation of promotional materials such as business cards, portfolio photos, resume services, or website costs.
  • Salaries paid to others acting as an agent, manager, or personal assistant
  • Travel costs for auditions and job searches, meetings and seminars, or professional memberships.
  • The cost of costume alteration, cleaning, or purchases, provided they are not suitable for everyday wear.
  • Any props or stage makeup services used for performances and appearances.
  • Voice or continuing education lessons.
  • Miscellaneous expenses such as memberships to guilds, subscriptions to professional journals, licenses, and home office expenses.

Professional performance artists likely occur expenses in an effort to maintain their persona. In many cases, these expenses can deal directly with physical appearances, including clothing, makeup, hair care, and fitness. Because these expenses are considered personal, and have a benefit outside of the job in everyday life, they are not deductible.

There are certain expenses that are considered work-related and may be able to be deducted. If you are an employee of a company, you can qualify for a dollar-for-dollar adjustment of your income when you file your tax return. You should deduct these expenses as a 2% limited miscellaneous deduction. To qualify for this deduction you must meet all of the requirements:

  • You work for at least two different employers.
  • At minimum, two employers must pay you at least $200 in wages.
  • Your performance-related expenses are greater than 10% of your gross income from the performance.
  • Your adjusted gross income is less than $16,000 prior to any deductions. Married individuals have to file a joint return unless they lived in separate residences. You’ll need to calculate all requirements separately for each spouse. However, the final requirement is related to the combined adjusted gross income of both you and your spouse.