How The New Tax Bill Affects Freelancers


It’s 2018, and you are likely starting to think about your taxes. You may also be wondering what’s in the newly passed tax legislation (officially the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” or TCJA) and how it’s going to affect you. Here is some help, specifically targeted for freelancers and creative economy workers.

To be clear, the 2017 taxes you file in the next few months will be based on the rules you already know. In other words, the old tax laws apply to the 2017 taxes you will file this year. The TCJA applies to 2018 and beyond, so this is for your planning for the coming year.

When you file your 2018 taxes (next year), most people will get an initial tax cut (that will expire in 2026), but the wealthy get most of the benefit. People in high-tax and high cost of living areas and those with kids may see their taxes rise. New York City artists with children, this means you. There are a lot of nuts and bolts reasons for this, which is what the bulk of this article is designed to address, but it’s worth spelling out the rationale for these changes. Your taxes may go up because Republicans are targeting blue states in an attempt to force us to cut our spending. They are giving a large, permanent tax cut to corporations, and the majority of individual tax breaks to the top 1%. This cues up a big deficit that they will later point to when they try to cut social spending. By delaying talk of spending cuts, they hope we will all forget who created this deficit and why.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the biggest piece of tax legislation passed since 1986...Read more

Why Mid-Tier Galleries Leave New York

Monya Rowe Gallery, St. Augustine, Florida

Monya Rowe Gallery, St. Augustine, Florida

As an artist who moved out of New York City, I’m not alone in finding new energy, inspiration and freedom. My move was from Brooklyn to Asheville, North Carolina. But when I noticed multiple long-established New York galleries also making such moves, it surprised me. Don’t galleries have to stay close to collectors?

According to four dealers I spoke to who had moved out of the city, the cost of operating a gallery in New York City was a major factor for everyone, though lifestyle was also a factor. Says Monya Rowe, of Monya Rowe Gallery “Sadly, NYC is killing itself with all the rent hikes.” Rowe ran a gallery in Williamsburg, Chelsea and the Lower East Side for 12 years before she relocated to St. Augustine Florida in 2015.


Business and Personal Accounts: Keep ’em Separated

There are a million meaningful reasons to operate an arts business, from creating revelatory art experiences for the public, to a commitment to a tradition, to the love of making hand-crafted objects. But at the end of the day, if it is a business (and not, say, a non-profit), a major purpose is to make money to pay for the expenses of living. And if the purpose of the businesses’ earnings is to pay for our personal expenses, why then is it so important to keep the business financial transactions separate from our personal ones?

The reasons are simple. It protects you from tax trouble and legal trouble. And it’s the law.

Here is an example to illustrate the tax trouble scenario. 


The Personal Finance Attitude Adjustment


In my last post, I outlined the basics of a personal finance plan. That article is the “what to do” where I answer questions about insurance, debt management, savings and investments. If you haven’t read it I suggest spending a bit of time with the post because it provides the foundation for getting your proverbial ducks in a row. This week, I’d like to get into the “how to do it” part.

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A Personal Finance Cheat Sheet for the Overwhelmed

personal finance

Money is the most powerful metaphor we have. For many people it represents their self-worth, their standing, their power and their security. In many ways artists are a little different—we have a life where we choose to value different things than the rest of society – freedom, both artistic and from societal norms, as well as intellectual independence. Our very existence can be seen as a challenge to capitalism. It’s why some people feel threatened by us—our choice to place a high value on things other than money might call into question their own choices and values.

So I understand why many artists may want to or feel as though they live outside the “regular” financial system. However, we all still must function within it. I have seen too many artists succumb to their own lack of financial knowledge and security – by giving up art, making outsized financial sacrifices (like homeownership, children, or secure retirement), and even becoming destitute. Money can be very emotional: not knowing how to manage it can make us feel out of control, anxious, overwhelmed, and ashamed.

But the flipside is wonderful. Taking some basic steps to control your money is empowering. It can prolong your career, help you meet personal and professional goals, and set your mind at ease.

I’d like to outline the most basic ideas of personal finance. There are tomes written on each single line below, and a million variations. But since feeling overwhelmed can cause paralysis, I want to assure you that the very basics of solid personal finance are universal.* Here they are.  Read more...

The Estate Tax: An Economic Justice No-Brainer

Estate Tax

Economic inequality is one of our biggest problems as a society, and it’s ruining our health. But it’s hard to write headlines about something that gets incrementally worse every day, instead of making a dramatic, newsworthy entrance. Bernie Sander’s campaign struck a chord by focusing on income inequality, and Trump garnered popularity by addressing workers on the losing end of the economy (though, I would argue, not with actual solutions).

I wish I could write a column about the perfect solution to income inequality. But a problem with many causes, needs multiple solutions. A lot of opportunity exists within the tax code to address these problems. The current administration either views income inequality as a benefit to society that should be boosted through the tax code, or simply does not care about anyone outside the 1%. We know this, because virtually everything in Trump’s tax proposal is regressive and would worsen income inequality.

There’s no shortage of topics to tackle with regards to the proposal (if that’s what you can even call the incomplete bullet list the White House sent out) but I’d like to focus on what I think should be an economic justice rallying cry: The Estate Tax. Read more...

Set up For Your Best Year Ever: A Tax Day How-To

tax day help

Here we are at Tax Day. Your taxes are filed. (They aren’t? Here’s an IRS extension form – postmark it today. You’ll need one for your state, too.)

Last year you vowed to get your stuff in order. Then suddenly the tax deadline was upon you, and you scrambled through the process, and weren’t as careful as you intended to be. You suspected you should have been paying estimated quarterly taxes all year, but didn’t, and now your tax bill is surprisingly high.

You meant to set some money aside in a retirement account, but that shocking tax bill meant you didn’t have any cash to do it.

You suspect that there were deductions you missed.

If you’re being honest, your books were a mess (if you’re thinking “I need to keep books?” go back and read this.)

Now that the time pressure is off, let’s take a look at how you can make this year better. Plus some discounts on apps that can help you.  Read more...

Charitable Deductions for You, Me and Warren Buffet


Here’s a fact that may surprise you: lower income people give far more to charity than people in the upper income brackets. And yet the laws for charitable giving bend over backwards to accommodate high-income charitable givers, and often don’t allow low income people to get a deduction at all.

The reason is that only people who itemize their deductions get to claim charitable deductions, and lower income households usually don’t itemize. Here’s a quick primer:

Every person filing taxes gets a personal exemption of $4050 for every taxpayer and dependant claimed on her return. In English, this means that everybody’s first  $4050 of income is automatically tax-free. If you are married with three kids, you only pay tax on any money you make over $20,250 ($4050 personal exemption x 5 people).That’s true for you, me, and Warren Buffett.  read more...

The SEP IRA: A Lovesong


We freelancers pay a lot of tax. We don’t just pay an income tax rate of anywhere from 0 to 39% on our freelance income – we also pay a flat 15.3% self-employment tax, no matter what our income bracket. Without tax planning, this can be a huge bite.

As artists and cultural workers, our freelancer tax strategy is generally to reduce the amount of our taxable self-employment income as much as legally possible. Tax planning is hard, because it’s about saving small bits in many places. There are few silver bullets. But the closest thing there is to a silver bullet is tax-sheltered retirement savings. Read full article

Why Refusing to Pay Taxes is an Ineffective Protest of Trump

Frustrated with President Donald Trump’s first four weeks in office? So far, he’s rolled out a sloppy and disgraceful travel ban on Muslims (notably omitting countries he has business ties to), and used taxpayer money to pay for his sons’ jaunts to other countries to promote Trump family businesses. His presidency has been rife with conflict of interest but he has not released his taxes, so there remain few ways to prove it.

It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of talk has surfaced among artists and progressives about not paying income tax this year in protest of the Republican administration’s policies. Is this a good idea?

The short answer is, “No.” It is a very, very bad idea that’s not only misguided and dangerous, but will be absolutely ineffective.

As an expert on taxation, I have some insight on why this is so problematic. So, let’s look at some of these issues and talk about some ways to direct this energy that will make meaningful change. Read full article

Rent Too Damn High? Deduct Your Home Studio.

One of the best tax breaks out there is the home office (or home studio) deduction. In tax terms, this essentially turns a portion of your nondeductible personal expenses (your home) into deductible business expenses (a workplace). A lot of people are confused about the rules, and some people are scared to take the deduction at all because they’ve heard that it can be a red flag to the IRS. As long as you are following the rules correctly, there is nothing wrong with taking the deduction. And it’s a big one! So here is some help.

First, when can you claim a home office/home studio?

You have to use it both exclusively and regularly.

Exclusive use means that the space is a dedicated workspace – no kids watching TV in there after hours, no guests staying there. There is no wiggle room on this part.  read full article

The Nitty Gritty: How To Prepare for Filing Your Taxes


Nobody likes filing taxes. But thinking ahead and getting your documents lined up reduce the stress of the process. Here are some key ways to prepare yourself for tax season, and get you ready to sit down to your own tax prep software or deliver an organized package to your tax preparer.

1. Download a 2016 tax year organizer. There are many available online. Mine is here. This will be your guide and checklist, and will help you see what you still need, and tell you when you’re done. Follow this guide.  Every accountant has a horror story about someone who, in the attempt to save themselves time, doesn’t read the organizer carefully, and causes no less than six follow up phone calls to chase down the information. Believe me when I tell you that a busy accountant in the heat of tax season will charge you extra for that kind of hand-holding. If you want to save yourself time (and money) on the tax process, have these materials fully prepared before heading to your accountant. 

2. Put your receipts, 1099-MISCs, W-2s and all your other tax documents in a folder. This can be virtual or manilla. But keep in more

Getting Organized: Financial Resolutions for Artists in 2017

Getting Organized: Financial Resolutions for Artists in 2017

As we enter a the new year, let’s take time to think about the priorities in our arts practices, and in our personal lives. You may roll your eyes at the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but there is evidence that writing down your goals actually helps you achieve them. So grab a pen, and let’s put some intention into 2017.

In my interview with artist Susan Crile about her eight year ordeal defending herself in US Tax Court, there was a lot of discussion about keeping records to prove the profit motive in one’s art practice. It brings up a good question for most of us: how are we doing on our own record keeping? If the IRS sent an audit letter tomorrow, would you feel good about the shape that your records are in? If the answer is not good, don’t panic. Here is a list of what you will need, and some thoughts on how to improve your record keeping going forward.

  • Good Bookkeeping. Bookkeeping is important to any business. Without tracking expenses and growth, there is no way to improve your practice. It’s impossible to argue that you are actively trying to turn a profit when you don’t track your income and expenses. 

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An Audit Nightmare Turned Artist Victory: An Interview with Susan Crile

Susan Crile in the Studio

Susan Crile in the Studio

American businesses sometimes lose money. Those losses actually create a tax shelter for other income. While the tax code explicitly provides this incentive for businesses – to encourage investment for growth, and to allow for unpredictable events – losses that go on for too long tend to draw scrutiny from the IRS.

If your arts practice loses money for more than a couple years, they may question the legitimacy of the business – specifically, the profit motive. Typically, they reclassify such a business as a hobby, and disallow the artist from expensing deductions past the point of their income from the activity. That’s bad news for any artist, but it was a near nightmare scenario for artist Susan Crile.

Crile spent eight years in tax court (from 2005-2013), defending her right to take losses. She is an accomplished artist by any measure. She has had over 50 one-person exhibitions, and her work is represented in dozens of museum collections, including the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Hirshhorn, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. She is also a tenured professor of art at Hunter College.

However, despite this decades-long professional history, the IRS threatened to reclassify her art as a hobby, disallow her losses, and force her to pay over $80,000. In the end, Susan Crile won on the question of being considered a professional artist, and the precedent that her case set is that her day job was clearly judged to be a separate profession—not the reason for her art. But the judge did not rule on the allowability of her large deductions—that piece was sent to a settlement, and not all of the deductions were allowed.

In this interview, we discuss how she proved her case, what it took, and what she recommends for artists in a similar position.

Hannah Cole: First I wanted to thank you for putting yourself through what you have. You set a precedent that really helps other artists.

Susan Crile: I’m still recovering from it! I was very lucky that the law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore took it on pro bono, but my accounting was not taken care of pro bono. So I’m still getting my feet back from that.

HC: How did the audit start? I assume you got a letter in the mail and I want to know what went through your mind. (PSA to readers: an IRS audit always begins with a notice in the mail. If you receive a phone call announcing an audit, it is a scam.)


Your Miami Tax Guide: Yes, You Can Deduct That Pina Colada

After a few weeks diligently absorbing the dark, awful post-election news, I’m ready to turn my attention to fun, sun, and travel deductions for the Miami art fairs.

To review the basics, if you’re a professional artist with a profit motive, you’re reporting your income each year on a Schedule C (as part of your 1040 form), and the beauty in that is that it entitles you to list your income and your expenses. So as a self-employed person, you are paying taxes on the difference between those numbers (aka your “profit,” which is income – expenses), and not on the gross income you receive.

Travel expenses incurred in your arts business are one of the great deductions that you are allowed. A note of caution before you go expensing a bunch of luxury accommodations though: by law, your business expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” to qualify. This means that if the industry standard is a Motel 6, and you book the Ritz-Carlton, you may deduct only the Motel 6 amount. Further, travel expenses are a tempting area for tax abuse (along with meals and entertainment and home studios). If yours are out of proportion with the size of your business, or compared to your peers, you have an excellent chance of being audited.

Warnings aside, travel deductions are a great benefit, and here is how to make the most of them, in time for the Miami art fairs.


How Donald Trump's Tax Plan Will Affect Arts Workers: There's Bad Stuff Coming

It’s been a terrible week. Tuesday’s election of Donald Trump has already damaged  the emotional wellbeing of our country and its citizens. He will do much worse in the long term.

Most immediately, many of us are feeling wrecked. I include myself in that group. I had  envisioned taking my daughters to the inauguration of the first woman President, and assured them that a bully and an abuser would not be chosen by the American people. Not only will we not see the inauguration of the first woman President, but a bully and an abuser has been chosen by the American people. This is not the history I’d hoped my children would live through.

In the long term, it’s less clear what this means for us as a nation. There’s no way to predict the future, but if we want to see any kind of positive outcome we have to start organizing now. There are a lot of ways to participate. We can join protests, reach out to our neighbors. My weapon of choice, though, is to begin with the process of self-education. We can’t fight against powers we don’t understand. As a tax expert, I intend to help.

With the upcoming push for regressive tax legislation, it’s important to understand what’s being proposed and how it will affect us both as individuals and in the professional field in which we’ve invested our lives. Some of these changes may have a profound impact on both the high and low ends of the art market and non-profit sectors, so we need to be prepared.

Tax reform – specifically, supply-side theory-based tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations – is the one thing that Trump and Congress currently agree on. Our House Speaker Paul Ryan is a self-proclaimed “tax wonk,” (and he has already announced his plan to privatize Medicare). Trump’s plan has shifted over the course of the election, and his campaign speeches contradict his proposed policies. He has suggested that he would let Ryan take over the detail. There’s some bad stuff coming.

The details will shift as the President-elect and Congress hammer out their differences, but for now, let me provide an outline, and my assessment:


What Makes An Artist Special? Nothing, According to the IRS

Being poor for art has a shelf life. It’s important to be brave enough to sacrifice potential revenue and follow your dreams, but to make a career in the arts happen, eventually a sustainable income and lifestyle has to be secured. Part of getting there, is knowing how to handle your taxes. Learning the ins and outs of this part of your practice will help you get through the tough times and the boom times.

We’ve had our fair share of both over here at AFC, so we thought a few questions to an accountant might be useful not just for our readers, but for our own, self-serving purposes. In the following Q&A with accountant Hannah Cole, we tried to discern what, if anything was unique about artists taxes, how creatives can get the biggest tax breaks, and whether they should attempt to do their taxes on their own. The answers were eye-opening. 

AFC: Are artist taxes unique?

Hannah Cole: Not really. If you’re receiving money from your work as an artist, you are running a small business. As such, you file a Schedule C (aka Profit and Loss from Business), which is an attachment to your regular individual tax return.


Can I Get a Tax Deduction For the Artwork I Donated? Short Answer, No

image via c-monstah

image via c-monstah

Here’s the scenario: Your friend at Charity X wants you to donate one of your paintings to their upcoming fundraising auction. You’re on the fence, but she mentions the tax deduction, and so you agree. After your painting sells at the event, you get a letter from Charity X, intended for your tax records, stating the price your piece sold for.

This scenario is misleading to the artist. The charity is implying that you can take a tax deduction that you are not actually entitled to.

I want to pause and say that I think most charities are doing good work and don’t intend to mislead artists. But many of them hope the rosiest possible scenario is true, and haven’t checked the facts.

So here they are.

Your painting is what the IRS calls a “self-created asset.” As such, the rules are clear: you can only deduct the cost of the materials. And let’s face it — for most artists, much of the value is in the labor — the materials by comparison are minor.