As we head into tax preparation season, I would like to share a brief personal anecdote about filing my taxes both as an educator and as a freelance musician. The following does not constitute tax advice of any kind, and to cut right to the chase, the moral of my story is to consult a tax professional. Even if you prepare and file your returns yourself, it might be beneficial to sit down with an expert to go over anything you might have missed.
For years I filed my own returns using the standard software. I was never audited, and usually satisfied with the result. However, I normally encountered at least a few tricky questions that weren’t easily answered by the computer. If you’ve ever used tax preparation software, you probably know what I’m talking about. If the program detects anything anomalous in your return, it won’t let you file until the problem is resolved. After several years of feeling like I was missing something in my self-prepared return, I decided to ask around and find an accountant who was comfortable working with musicians. One of my colleagues in the Shreveport Symphony recommended a CPA firm, and I set up a meeting. That was four years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. In short, having a professional prepare our tax return was a great decision for my family.
If you decide to do the same, here are a few tips that might help:
- Ask around before choosing a CPA or other tax professional. Consult both in and out of your field, but try to find someone who has experience working with musicians. An experienced professional can help you identify deductions you weren’t aware of. For example, here is an incomplete list of possible deductions to ask your tax professional about.
- Membership Fees for Professional Organizations
- Conference registration fees
- Cell Phone/Internet
- Instrument Repair/Cleaning
- Dry cleaning costs for tuxes, suits, other professional attire
- Equipment, sheet music, recordings
- Teaching supplies
- Keep track of mileage and expenses. This is easier than ever now with the plethora of apps, online templates, and other tools for tracking expenses. I use Expensify to log my mileage and catalog receipts, but also keep electronic and hard copies of all my receipts. A quick search of the Apple or Android store will yield lots of options for apps.
- Collect all of your paperwork and total up your expenses before meeting with your tax preparer. I like to keep all of my official documents – W-2s, 1099s, royalty statements, etc. – in one folder, and supporting documents like receipts and mileage logs in another. Shortly after January 1, I sit down and total up mileage and itemize my expenses from the previous year. Doing so will save you time and headache when you meet with a CPA.
- Don’t assume that a deduction is or isn’t allowed without confirmation. When in doubt, ask!
That’s all I have to say on this topic for now, but perhaps you will find some of this information useful. For another perspective on the same subject, check out this post on the website of Erin A. Paul, an active freelance hornist in New York City.