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The Steep Cost of Being a Model

Want to be a Model? Be Prepared for the Costs


People often go into modeling because they regard it as a glamorous career, with cameras, flashbulbs, and designer clothing. But as anyone in the industry quickly discovers, trying to carve out a career as a model can get expensive in a hurry.

Read more after the jump:

The Hidden Expenses of Modeling

From the outside looking in, modeling can look like a cushy gig that features lots of perks. This can certainly be the case for some professionals, only a few in the upper echelons of the industry will reach the point of being able to enjoy lucrative benefits.

For the majority of models, the uphill climb is steep — and costly! In part of an investigative series called Runway Injustice, CNN Money took a look at the outrageous costs associated with modeling.

Here’s an abbreviated recap of some of the shocking tales covered in that piece:

In one situation, a model received $15 for a catalog shoot that promised $500. The discrepancy was attributable to all the costs, expenses, commissions, and taxes the model was required to pay.

In another instance, a model was promised $30,000 for a job, but received only $6,475 after taxes and commissions.

Another model was promised $74,000 over a six-year period, but netted just $30,000.

Many other experiences were related in which the models had expected to earn $10,000, but saw just $4,000 after commissions were removed.

As CNN Money explained, “Models typically aren’t treated as employees, so they usually aren’t guaranteed to receive minimum wage, overtime, lunch breaks, prompt paychecks or many other protections that are common in the workplace.”

Because they’re treated as independent contractors, models have to pay more in taxes — on top of robust agency commissions that may exceed 20 percent. They’re also generally asked to cover their own transportation (including airfare), housing, and promotional materials.

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Financial Advice for Models

Modeling can still be a rewarding and lucrative career, but it requires strategic planning, self-discipline, and financial savvy. If you aspire to a career in this field, you’ll need a solid game plan to succeed.


Here are some issues to consider:

Every model needs to know the difference between gross income and net earnings. Gross income is the top-line number you earn before items like taxes, fees, and expenses are taken out. Net earnings refers to the amount that actually shows up in your bank account. So while your gross earnings on a modeling gig might be $1,000, expenses of $200 and taxes of $250 would bring your net down to $550.

When you receive no benefits from an employer, you have to find ways to save, invest, and put your dollars to work in other ways. In today’s market, a savings account with a bank earns next to nothing. A better option is a term deposit, which is a safe, short-term investment that will earn you a couple more percentage points.

As an independent contractor, you need to do everything you can to limit your tax liability. Since you have no official employer who takes on some of your tax burden, you have to pay 100 percent of every tax dollar. If you aren’t careful, this can cost thousands of dollars a year. Get smart about tax planning, no matter what your income is.

Don’t become overly reliant on any one talent agent or agency. If you do, you’ll pigeonhole yourself and limit your ability to earn more. You need to seek exposure to and through as many agents as you can. Not only is this likely to land you more gigs, but it will give you the opportunity to raise your rates and use the competition for your talents to drive up your marketplace value.

Find a model who is three to five years ahead of you and experiencing some degree of success. Try to learn as much as you can from this person — not just in terms of modeling technique, but also how to handle negotiations, contracts, taxes, and so on. It helps to have someone who’s more knowledgeable about the industry you can bounce ideas off of and gather insights from.

Modeling can be a wonderful and fulfilling career, but it can also be fairly cutthroat for people who aren’t well aware of how things work. If you can learn the ins and outs of the industry without getting too badly burned, you’ll have a much better shot at earning a healthy living for yourself and your family.

Images by Pablo Rodrigo for Design SCENE

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