Sandra Karas, secretary-treasurer of Actors’ Equity, was surprised Monday morning when she read The New York Times’ article about President Trump’s income taxes – and the $70,000 that he reportedly wrote off as a business expense for hair styling in connection with his TV show The Apprentice. “It made me laugh when I saw it in the paper,” she said. “The first thing I thought was, ‘That’s not deductible.’”
Karas isn’t privy to Trump’s Apprentice contract, but said that it’s “unheard of” for producers to make the star of a hit show pay for their own hair and makeup. And Karas should know: As a licensed accountant and tax attorney currently representing, pro bono, a member of the union in a case before the US Tax Court, she oversees the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in the union’s New York office that helps members fill out their tax returns, free of charge.
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She says she’s helped thousands of entertainment professionals with their taxes, and has never heard of a star who had to pay for their own hair styling and makeup. “I can’t imagine it,” she said. “I can’t imagine that a celebrity would have to worry about maintaining a hairdo, especially for a show that was as long-running as his was.”
And if the producers pay for a performer’s hair and makeup, it’s not deductible. “It would surprise me that Mr. Trump, as a celebrity, didn’t have the producer picking up the cost of that for him,” she said. “I don’t know what his contract said, but I would be very surprised if his producer did not pay for his hair or make-up, and he had to pay for it himself. It’s really rare that a celebrity of that stature – somebody who was the star of his own TV show – would have to hire somebody and pay somebody to do his hair in connection to the show.”
The Times’ article says: “Mr. Trump has written off as business expenses costs – including fuel and meals – associated with his aircraft, used to shuttle him among his various homes and properties. Likewise the cost of haircuts, including the more than $70,000 paid to style his hair during The Apprentice.” Trump, who worked under an AFTRA contract on The Apprentice, called the Times’ story “Fake news.”
“And the producer didn’t pay for this?” asked Karas, who is also an actor. “That’s astonishing, because you can better believe that any other celebrity who shows up to do a television gig or a film gig or any other on-camera work, they’re going to show up and their hair and make-up will be provided for by the studio.”
In order to be deductible, she said, an expense “has to be ordinary and necessary to the work, and not provided by your employer, but required of the job. If I’m required to do my own hair and makeup for a gig of some kind, then I would be able to deduct it as ordinary and necessary to that job. If I am provided hair and makeup, then I can’t take that deduction. It would be the same if they reimbursed me for anything else. If the producer said, ‘We’re going to fly you out to Los Angeles to do a TV pilot,’ then I can’t turn around and deduct the cost of the airfare, because they’ve already paid for it. The IRS would say, ‘No, no. Your contract called for your employer to provide this.’ I can’t imagine a celebrity not having all of that provided for – wardrobe, hair, makeup – everything.”
When advising entertainment professionals on their taxes, she said: “I tell them what the tax code allows – and that is that make-up and hair care is only deductible if you can relate it to a job and it’s not provided for you by the employer.”
She said that her members often complain about not being allowed to deduct the cost of maintaining their look. “One of their biggest complaints is that ‘I have to go out on auditions; I have to do interviews and I have to keep up my appearance the way it looks in my headshot. I have to keep my color up or my cut or whatever it is.’ And I say, ‘That’s all well and good, but none of that is deductible, except maybe the cost when you do your hair and makeup for your website or your headshot. That’s a straight advertising expense.’ But as an ongoing upkeep, it’s not tax deductible.”
“If I’m required to do my own hair and makeup for a gig of some kind, then I would be able to deduct it as ordinary and necessary to that job,” she said. “In some cases, that’s very common. For example, many of our members do background work in films, television and commercials, and they’re expected to do their own hair and makeup. In fact, some of them are expected to provide their own wardrobes, and the producer doesn’t pay for any of it. So those are fully tax deductible, because you are expected to do it; it’s not reimbursed, and it’s tax deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense – while you’re working. If your employer provides it, however, it’s not deductible.
“I wasn’t shocked that it cost $70,000,” she laughed, “but I was shocked that he was deducting it – that he said he had to pay for it and was deducting it on his tax returns; that he said it was a business expense. Maybe he paid somebody all that money to do his hair every year. That might make sense to somebody. But that it’s a business expense? No. I don’t believe that his producer forced him to pay $70,000 to get his hair done for the show.”