Tax tips for musicians

Volume 114, No. 3March, 2014

Each year, as the tax season approaches, Allegro publishes these updated tax tips for musicians provided by Local 802’s accounting firm, Gould, Kobrick & Schlapp P.C.


The following outline focuses on aspects of the tax law that specifically affect musicians. For additional information on deductions, exemptions or filing status, see a tax advisor or visit

Here is a quick overview of some highlights for this tax year:

  • There is a new top bracket of 39.6% that applies if taxable income exceeds $400,000 for single, $425,000 for heads of households, $450,000 for married filing jointly and qualifying widow(er), and $225,000 for married filing separately.
  • Workers with wages and other compensation including net self-employment earning in excess of $250,000 married filing jointly, $125,000 married filing separately, or $200,000 single, head of house-hold or qualifying widow(er) are subject to the new 0.9% additional Medicare tax. This tax is calculated on Form 8959.
  • Beginning in 2013, you may be subject to the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT). The tax rate is 3.8% of smaller of (a) your net investment income or (b) the excess of your modified adjusted gross income over: $125,000 if married filing separately, $250,000 if married filing jointly and qualifying widow(er), or $200,000 if single or head of household. This tax is calculated on Form 8960.
  • The maximum tax rate of 15% on net capital gain and qualified dividends has increased to 20% for those taxpayers reaching the new 39.6% tax bracket.
  • If you have a same-sex spouse whom you legally married in a state (or foreign country) that recognizes same-sex marriage, you and your spouse generally must use the married filing jointly or married filing separately filling status on your 2013 return, even if you and your spouse now live in a state (or foreign country) that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
  • The personal exemption amount for 2013 is $3,900. The amount is reduced if your adjusted gross income is more than: $150,000 if married filing separately, $250,000 if single, $275,000 if head of household, or $300,000 if married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er).
  • The basic standard deduction is $6,100 for singles; $8,950 for heads of household; $12,200 for married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) and $6,100 for married filing separately. There is an additional standard deduction for tax payers over 65 and/or blind.
  • You may not be able to deduct all of your itemized deductions if your adjusted gross income is more than $150,000 if married filing separately, $250,000 if single, $275,000 if head of household or $300,000 if married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er). The phase-out does not apply to medical expenses, investment interest, casualty/theft losses or gambling losses.
  • The floor for deduction of medical expenses as an itemized deduction increased to 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) if you and your spouse are under age 65 at the end of the year and remains 7.5% if you and your spouse are age 65 or older.
  • All unemployment compensation is taxable in 2013.
  • The standard mileage rate for business use of your car is 56.5 cents per mile for 2013. The rate for medical expense and moving expense deductions is 24 cents a mile. For charitable volunteers, the mileage rate is 14 cents a mile.
  • The temporary 2% reduction in the tax rate on the employee portion of Social Security expired on December 31, 2012. The rate is 4.2% for 2012 and 6.2% for 2013. Wages and self-employment earnings of up to $113,700 are subject to the Social Security tax for 2013.
  • A Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) must be received by April 1 of the year following the year in which you reach age 70½ from your traditional IRA account(s). If a RMD is not received within the required period, the IRS can impose a penalty of up to 50 percent on the amount not received.
  • A six-month automatic extension to file your tax return may be obtained by filing Form 4868 by April 15, 2014.
  • Taxpayers can deduct either state and local income taxes or state and local general sales taxes. The sales tax deduction is based on an IRS table or actual sales taxes. You should get the advice of your tax preparer when filing your return.
  • For 2013, the contribution limit for traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs is $5,500 or $6,500 for those ages 50 or older. The deduction is phased-out at certain income levels.
  • Taxpayers with interests in foreign bank accounts or other foreign financial accounts or assets may have to file Form TD F90-22.1 (FBAR) or Form 8938, or possibly even both Forms. Substantial penalties may apply if a required form is not filed.
  • Eligible individuals in 2013 covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan can make deductible contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) up to $3,250 for self-only coverage or $6,450 for family coverage. Other rules may apply so consult your tax preparer.
  • The Residential Energy Credit is a 30 percent credit allowed for the cost of certain qualified residential energy-saving items.
  • The first-time homebuyer credit expired in 2012.
  • In 2013, if the claimed value of a donated car exceeds $500, a qualifying written acknowledgment must be obtained and must be on Form 1098-C and attached to Form 1040 or no deduction is allowed. If the charitable organization sells the vehicle without having put it to significant use or improving it, the deduction may be limited.
  • If a new car is placed in service in 2013 and used over 50% for business, bonus depreciation allows an $11,600 first-year depreciation limit. The limit is $3,160 if bonus depreciation is not allowed. For a light truck or van, the limit is $11,360 if bonus depreciation applies and $3,360 without the bonus. The limits are reduced for personal use.


Professional musicians may have income from which tax has been withheld (W-2) or income from self-employment where neither tax nor Social Security has been deducted.

If the musician is self-employed, all allowable travel and other expenses should be deducted on Schedule C before the adjusted gross income is entered on page 1 of the tax return.

If the musician has only W-2 wages, these expenses must be deducted on Schedule A.

Reimbursements for expenses (e.g., travel and entertainment) received under an accountable plan do not show up on the musician’s Form W-2, are not reported as income, and do not give rise to deductions. However, if the employee’s expenses exceed reimbursements, the excess may be claimed on Form 2106 as an employee business expense. Generally, reimbursements are considered received under an accountable plan if:

  • They are made for deductible business expenses;
  • The employee accounts for the expenses to the employer; and
  • The employee returns any excess reimbursement.

Reimbursements received under a non-accountable plan (any plan other than an accountable plan) are subject to withholding and employment taxes and are shown as wages on Form W-2 and must be reported as income on Form 1040.

The employee may be able to offset the extra income by claiming employee business expenses on Form 2106, but such expenses, along with other miscellaneous itemized deductions, may be claimed only to the extent they exceed 2 percent of adjusted gross income.


Also deductible are employees’ expenses incurred in the practice of your profession.

In addition to the travel expenses discussed above, they include:

  • Union dues, assessments and initiation fees;
  • Commissions paid to agents and booking offices;
  • Dues to other professional societies;
  • Rehearsal hall, studio or office rental;
  • Sheet music, transcriptions, arrangements, records, manuscript paper, etc.;
  • Stationery, printing and postage used in business;
  • Telephone used for business (a portion of your home phone may be deducted);
  • The costs associated with your cell phone, as long as the calls are made for business purposes;
  • Books and subscriptions to professional journals;
  • Advertising and photographs for promotion;
  • Other promotional expenses such as entertaining potential purchasers of music and gifts (not exceeding $25 per recipient);
  • Repairs and upkeep of instruments;
  • Insurance on instruments;
  • Substitutes’ pay;
  • Legal expenses for drawing up contracts of employment;
  • Rental of instruments;
  • Depreciation of instruments or recording equipment.

For self-employed freelance musicians, you may be able to deduct the cost of your internet service provider, web site designer, web site expenses, domain hosting bill or anything related to the internet that is related to your business. (If you are not self-employed, check with your tax adviser.) Also, you may be able to deduct the cost of buying a computer if it is used for business purposes, and you may also be able to deduct a portion of the depreciation on your computer each year. (If you are not self-employed, check with your tax adviser.)

Self-employed musicians (those who use Schedule C) may take tax deductions for contributions made to formal pension or profit-sharing plans for themselves and their employees. The procedures for this are quite complicated, and we advise that professional assistance be employed.

Note that two items – home office expenses and expenses for uniforms – were omitted from the above list. A word of caution is needed as to their deductibility.


You may claim a deduction if you use your home office exclusively and regularly for the administration or management activities of your business and you have no other fixed location where you conduct such activities. “Exclusive use” means that the office space must not be used for personal purposes. And you may not deduct home office expenses in excess of your net business income as a musician. The rules for the Home Office expense deduction go beyond this general description and should be discussed with your tax preparer.

The IRS has now provided an optional safe-harbor method for calculating home office deductions on schedule C.


The deductibility of long-distance travel involving railroad or plane fares is fairly clear. The fares, plus related costs – such as taxis to or from the depot, baggage-handling charges and passports for business trips – are all deductible as travel expenses.

If you were away from home overnight, you may also deduct all of the following expenses: 50 percent of meals and entertainment; 100 percent of travel and lodging; laundry and cleaning; tips to bellhops and chambermaids; and transportation at destination.

Musicians may also use their own cars for business travel. The deductible items involved include: depreciation of the cost of the auto; gas, oil and tires; insurance, license and registration fees; parking expenses (e.g., garage rental or parking meters); parkway or bridge tolls. The point to remember in deducting auto expenses is that after you have totaled all of these costs, you must subtract that portion used for personal purposes.

The regulations call for an allocation based upon both time and mileage used, and this is often the most difficult part of the calculation.

An alternate method involves computing the amount of business mileage and then multiplying those miles driven by 56.5 cents per mile effective Jan. 1, 2013. You may still deduct direct costs such as parking and tolls (but not depreciation, gas or oil).

The real problem in travel expenses is determining what portion of local travel (that is, not away from home overnight) is deductible.

In no case are personal meals deductible if the musician does not sleep away from home.

The regulations say that commuting costs are not deductible. This means that if the musician travels only from home to the hall and back again, the costs of travel are not deductible – even if the instruments are so bulky and heavy that it is impossible to use public transportation.

The costs of transporting instruments to and from work are deductible only if extra costs were incurred.

If you are playing more than one job during the day, you may use the business mileage formula described above for travel between jobs.

Again, except for any additional expenses, there is no auto deduction for travel to the first job or home from the last.


The cost of uniforms and other apparel, including their cleaning, laundering and repair, is deductible only if the garments are specially required in order for you to keep your job and are not adaptable to general or continued wear, to the extent that they could replace your regular clothing.

You may not deduct the cost of ordinary clothes used as work clothes on the grounds that they get harder use than customary garments; that they are soiled after a day’s work and cannot be worn socially; or that they were purchased for your convenience to save wear and tear on your better clothes.

That your job requires you to wear expensive clothing is not, according to the IRS, a basis for deducting the cost of the clothes, if the clothing is suitable for wear off the job.

Deductions have been allowed to musicians for formal wear and the costs of theatrical clothing and accessories, if these items are not suitable for ordinary use.


Bills are required as proof for all job expense items exceeding $75.

There are many items of a lesser amount – such as tips and taxi fares – where no proof may be obtained.

Detailed records must be kept of these expenses (and of business mileage if a car is involved) through a careful diary or log. Keeping such records takes time and effort. If your return is ever examined, however, you could lose your entire deduction in the absence of a good log or diary.

Numerous other items are deductible by the professional musician. Among these are education expenses, accounting fees and fees for investment advice.

With regard to education, you may take a deduction for any training or coaching that sharpens your present job or professional skills, or meets the expressed requirements of your employer for you to retain your job. You may also be able to deduct the cost of a course if you are entering a new specialty within the music field.