Article written by Dayna Gonzalez.
This past Friday night, ASIFA-East was treated to a very special and entertaining evening with The Singing CPA, Steven Zelin. I cannot believe that we spent 3 hours talking about taxes and the evening just flew by! Animators and artists came armed with questions regarding every possible scenario we encounter on a daily basis, and Steven took the time to thoroughly go over every nuance of this crazy business in regards to taxes and the IRS. And he did it while strumming his guitar the whole time, and breaking out into hilarious songs, about, you guessed it, filing taxes!
As artists and animators, the world of taxes is often a hard one to understand and navigate. I don’t think it’d be too far-fetched to say that most of us find taxes a mystery and a bore at the same time. The majority of us work on a freelance basis, whether we choose to freely or are reluctantly pushed into it by the sheer nature of the animation business. By the time tax time comes around, most of us have a mixture of 1099s, W2s, unemployment, and a mountain of receipts to go through. Dealing with taxes can be a confusing mess. That’s why I’m a huge advocate of arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible about your finances and business. As freelancers, we cannot rely on the traditional safety net of an employer taking care of us. It is up to us to do that for ourselves. We are our own advocates. I think it’s highly beneficial to see an accountant that understands the issues freelancers face, and what better one, than one who is a freelancer himself!
Steven Zelin is the Singing CPA. He writes and performs funny songs about taxes and accounting, and he’s been a certified public accountant for over 10 years. Steven opened up the evening with a parody of “When You’re Smiling”, called “When You’re Filing”. He leaned back against the desk and sang his heart out, and got us all laughing and giggling. He then went around the room, plucking his guitar strings, and asked everyone to introduce him or herself. Each person was to let him know what they’d like to go over and any questions they had for him, and I was to make a list of these issues on the chalkboard behind him. In this way, he was able to tailor the entire workshop to the needs of the individuals in the room. That first hour just flew by, full of enlightening tips and information on what it means to be “in business”. We spoke about everything from the difference between 1099s and W-2s, to the definition of an employee, to estimated tax payments. Steven stressed the importance of keeping accurate records of everything – from every invoice to every receipt. We also went over specific forms, such as the W-9, the W-4, and the Schedule C, where each expense deduction was explained in detail. We discussed the ill-conceived MTA tax – a tax that us freelancers have to pay to NYS, even though most of us work from home and don’t even use the transit system. We also talked about what taxes are and why they were needed. Many of the artists in the room described instances in which they should have been defined as an employee, yet were misclassified as a freelancer. Another common problem was pursuing payment. Steven discussed ways to combat both these issues.
Three hours of questions and answers later, and Steven was singing goodbye to us, in a song about how he came to be an accountant. I had artists coming up to me, very enthusiastically asking that Steven come by each year and do a workshop with us! What an enjoyable evening! And all about taxes! I hope to bring Steven back next year, and that many of you will join us.
To contact Steven:
Steven Zelin, The Singing CPA
450 7th Avenue #2000 (bet 34-35 Streets)
New York, NY 10123
Some tax tips:
1) The Unincorporated Business Tax has been eliminated for those earning less than $100,000, and enacting a tax credit for freelancers earning up to $150,000. Individuals will save up to $3,400 this year alone. This bill is so new, not many accountants know about it. Read more here at the Freelancer’s Union website.
2) The Making Work Pay tax credit will refund the self-employed earning under 75K up to $400. Joint filers earning less than 150K could be refunded up to $800. Be sure to ask your accountant about it.
3) Check out VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance). You can call 800-829-1040 and ask for the nearest VITA center where you can have their taxes done for free by a VITA volunteer. The VITA service can be helpful for people who earn less than $42k. Most VITA centers will not complete a Schedule C. http://extension.psu.edu/spotlight/income-tax/vita/eligibility.html