The conversation surrounding the New York Times’ exposé revealing over a decade of President Donald Trump’s tax returns continues. While there are many points of contention, one particularly flummoxing write-off remains at the forefront: Trump’s $70,000 deduction for his own hairstyling while on The Apprentice. He claims the professional hairstyling as a business expense — but tax experts and IRS guidelines tend to say otherwise.
While there are case-by-case circumstances, the Internal Revenue Service is pretty clear on what business costs can and cannot be deducted from your taxes. In this case, there are stipulations about costs related to appearing in the media. "You can't deduct expenses of radio and TV appearances to increase your personal prestige or establish your professional reputation," the IRS website states.
The issue is less so the high cost of the deduction (seventy! thousand! dollars!) and more the fact that Trump, as talent on The Apprentice, is claiming it as his own business expense. In an interview with Deadline, Sandra Karas, expert secretary-treasurer of Actors' Equity, explains that it's atypical for on-air talent to handle any show-related expenses. "You 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 makeup will be provided for by the studio," she said. To that end, Karas added that the over $95,000 Trump wrote off for hair and makeup for Ivanka Trump probably isn't deductible, either.
If showrunners do in fact pay for a performer's hair and makeup costs — which happens most of the time in entertainment production — those costs are not tax deductible by said performer. According to IMDB cast and crew credits, throughout the entirety of The Apprentice, there was a sizable, rotating team of hair and makeup artists employed by the show. In order for Trump's styling costs to be deductible as a business expense, they must be considered necessary and not provided by the employer but required of the job. Because a styling team was provided by the show, even if Trump did for some reason pay for the hair and makeup costs out of pocket, it's debatable whether or not those costs are deductible in the eyes of the IRS.
All of this is a form of tax manipulation that is unfortunately common among the wealthy. The point is to get taxable income to appear as low as possible — and while it may be a frequent occurrence, it's certainly unethical, and in some cases illegal. Claiming false deductions or claiming personal expenses as business expenses is textbook tax fraud or tax evasion. The IRS tax crimes handbook states that anyone found guilty of tax fraud or evasion faces possible felony charges, fines up to $250,000 for an individual, and up to five years in prison.
Naturally, Trump wrote it off as "fake news."