Tax question for an entertainment writer
March 27, 2008 2:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm an arts and entertainment writer for a blog, and I also do freelance writing for a number of newspapers and magazines. I cover movies, art, TV, music, theater, and video games. What kinds of things can I write off on my taxes?

I'll be writing off the computer and other more obviously work-related supplies I bought last year as business expenses. But can I also write off the cost of my cable and Internet service, since I use both, daily — and, since blogging is a 24-hour business, almost exclusively — for work? Books and magazine subscriptions? How about tickets to concerts and movies, most of which I wrote about? Obviously this would be pushing it, but can I write off the Xbox 360 I bought last year, since I do write about video games? I review movies sent to me on DVD screeners — would an HDTV be an acceptable, write-offable business expense? How about iPods, speakers, and headphones, since I also review CDs? Anyone have any experience with this?
posted by awesomedude to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What kinds of things can I write off on my taxes?

You can write off whatever your tax accountant tells you that you can write off. This is not a wisecrack. This is a suggestion that your question is much better asked of a professional in the field rather than of ask metafilter.
posted by dersins at 2:41 PM on March 27, 2008

I Am Not An Accountant, but I used to make a living writing for a nationally known entertainment magazine, and I did *have* an accountant. An excellent one. And I never got audited ever.

I have good news for you: Almost everything you listed above is deductible for you.

If I were you, I'd hesitate to write off the iPod -- is there anything you need it for that you can't watch/listen to some other way? OTOH, if you ever review or write about electronic equipment, then I *would* deduct it. As far as HDTV, if you can get your editors to start sending you HD discs to review, then the TV is clearly relevant to your business and therefore deductible.

In my experience, the overall principle is that if it's something you need -- either because you're writing about it or because it contributes to your knowledge of the milieu/market -- it's deductible.

My strong recommendation: It's worth shelling out $200 or so to talk to a real live accountant, because the deductions he/she will find (that you may never even have considered) will more than pay for the session.
posted by GrammarMoses at 2:42 PM on March 27, 2008

I used to be a freelancer, and these are the lessons as told to me by my tax-professional spouse:

Generally, what you can write off is anything that you use exclusively, 100% for work. So, if you also play on it or listen to it or watch it for fun, then it's not a deduction. You could try to estimate what percentage of the item's use is for work/recreation, but then you still can't deduct the entire cost -- a depreciation element comes into play, plus the IRS looks askance anyway. It's a pretty complicated way to try and buy an HDTV and write it off.

I'm guessing that you are trying to deduct expenses as a 1099 contractor? (If you are a full-time employee, you could deduct true work expenses on your Schedule A as a unreimbursed employee business expense.)

From a tax perspective, there aren't too many cut-and-dried answers here, and there is a whole lot of gray area. Ultimately, the rule of thumb to remember is that the more "fun" something is, the less likely it is to be considered deductible by the IRS -- because they simply won't buy that you only use your Xbox and iPod and HDTV, et al., for work.

And so the more you deduct, the more you open yourself up to the possible of an audit. It's certainly true that only a minute percentage of American taxpayers get audited; how much of that risk is acceptable is up to you.

Upon preview: GrammarMoses and I clearly have two very different takes on this. And I would agree that if the paid professional I had hired had told me that I could deduct this stuff, I would go forward and do it without a care -- because there's a professional signing off on it, one who is accepting responsibility for me with the IRS. That's the nice CYA that comes with a paid preparer.

So, I would like to emphasize both dersins' comment, and the glaring discrepancies you're already seeing here. If you are the kind of average joe who does your own taxes, you should think very carefully before writing off a bunch of stuff the IRS is likely to audit you for, and you should pay the money to talk to a real tax CPA. AskMetaFilter can tell you to deduct it all, all day long... and we're not the ones on the hook when you get that certified white envelope with the big green block print in the mail.
posted by pineapple at 2:51 PM on March 27, 2008

Despite my comparatively aggressive stance, I agree with pineapple that, in the end, it's your neck. Only you know how much of the aforementioned equipment you truly need in order to do your job. In my case, I had most of the equipment I needed before I went freelance, so it was a moot point (during my full-time years I never had enough deductions to itemize).
posted by GrammarMoses at 3:17 PM on March 27, 2008

Response by poster: Excellent, thanks guys! Looks like I'll be speaking to a CPA.
posted by awesomedude at 4:20 PM on March 27, 2008

If I learned one thing from my Income Tax class, I learned that the tax code is awfully complicated. I recommend running anything other than very clear-cut deductions by an accountant or tax attorney.

The gains from playing around in the gray area of tax law aren't anywhere near worth the risk of ending up on the wrong side of an IRS nastygram, and tax deductions are one area where laypeople commonly have no clue what they're talking about, but believe that they do. (Which is not at all a passive-aggressive comment aimed at pineapple or moses, just to be clear)
posted by toomuchpete at 4:36 PM on March 27, 2008

Full-time editor/part-time freelancer here. As far as I can tell, from everything my former tax preparer and TurboTax have told me, you cannot deduct something unless you use it 100 percent for work. There went my glorious dreams of buying a laptop and writing it off...
posted by limeonaire at 4:41 PM on March 27, 2008

Definitely go to an accountant. If you live around a major city, you can probably find someone who specializes in people who work in entertainment and media. If you live around NYC, mefi-mail me and I can give you a name.
posted by soy_renfield at 5:51 PM on March 27, 2008

because there's a professional signing off on it, one who is accepting responsibility for with me with the IRS

Get the expert advice, but don't just follow any of it blindly. You remain ultimately responsible for your return, no matter who prepares it.

June Walker's blog is a good starting point if you're self-empoyed. She has a lot of sensible advice about how to find a tax preparer who knows your business well.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:27 PM on March 27, 2008

The one deduction I found that I thought was cool was the meals-while-traveling one. You don't need receipts; they set a per diem amount based on where you're at and how long you were gone (overnight or just partial days). Then you get to deduct half that amount. You do have to show that the trip was for work, but you don't have to show that you actually spent $66 on food that day.

Of course, I could be wrong.
- an anonymous person who has hijacked salvia's computer
posted by salvia at 8:39 PM on March 27, 2008

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