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When Does An Actor Need a Financial Planner?

When Does An Actor Need a Financial Planner?
When does an actor need a financial planner?

Bryan Bellomo
Head financial coach, Abundance Bound; Los Angeles

A financial planner should not be confused with a financial plan. Every actor needs a financial plan, a strategy toward reaching small, incremental goals to propel the actor out of the starving-artist mentality. Actors at every level of professionalism should conduct their art as a business, with separate personal and business accounts that allow them to maintain solid record-keeping, track spending, and determine whether their acting career is functioning at a profit or loss. You don't need a financial planner to get you started on this road; you just need the gumption to make a small bit of paperwork a priority.

After this foundational work is managed, the trap many actors fall into is the carrot-on-a-stick mentality: "When I have more money, then I'll learn to manage it, or pay someone else to do all of that work for me." This is commonly the time when most actors turn their money over to a financial planner and pray that it will grow. Such misconceptions lead many actors to not begin a deeper relationship with their money until it's far too late. It's true that a financial planner may be part of your team; we often encourage it. But just like your relationship with your agent or manager, where no one cares about your career and agenda like you do, no one cares about your money the way you do. You must learn to direct others toward the decisions that appear right to you and manage a team, not hand over your power.

My advice: If and when you reach a plateau by exhausting the resources and time available to you, and you discover you need additional members of your team to provide guidance or to bounce ideas off of, then it will be time to pick up the phone. By then, more than likely, you'll have the confidence to create a real dialogue with a financial planner. Then you can interview several until you find one who will work with you in the pursuit of your goals.

Erin Burns
Certified financial counselor, Financial Advice for the Artist; New York

Immediately! Anyone who is devoting his or her life to a career like acting, in which 2.5 percent of those trained in it make their living at it, needs financial planning.

Most actors work side jobs to pay the rent, and the majority of those jobs do not provide medical benefits or any kind of retirement account. How many times have you had to worry about getting that shift at the restaurant covered because your agent just called and said you had an audition? As exciting as that audition may be, you are compromising your income by not showing up for work. What about the constant need for headshots, reels, acting classes, voice lessons, audition clothes—none of which are contributing to our retirement fund?

Actors are always waiting. We're waiting for our agent to call with that perfect audition, and we're waiting for our big break. But what are we doing to set ourselves up financially to retire with dignity? What if we never get that big break? Are we still funding our 401(k) each month? How about our student loans? How many actors do you know who have paid off their BFA in musical theater or that conservatory program that cost $50,000 per year? We must take personal responsibility to secure our own financial future.

Investing, saving for retirement, and paying off debt are concepts that most actors don't think about, ever. This is why it is even more imperative that actors take the initiative to meet with financial experts and learn how money works. I can tell you wholeheartedly that I am an actor who lives by these principles. I am debt-free, I have savings, and I am investing for my future. I hope and pray just like every actor in this business for success in my craft, but if I never land the female lead opposite Hugh Jackman in the next romantic blockbuster, I will still retire with dignity, not relying on credit cards or the government to sustain my living.

Rosalba Mazzola
Certified public accountant, LLI Advisory Group; New Jersey


Andrea M. Walls
Financial adviser, Raymond James Financial Services, and member, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority/Securities Investor Protection Corporation; New Jersey

The entertainment industry presents its own set of financial-planning and investment challenges, as actors, producers, and staff frequently live in a feast-or-famine environment. Special attention must be paid to ensuring that investments are maximized in good times and assets are available when work is scarce. A financial planner can help guide investment choices in order to plan for inconsistent employment patterns, including planning for retirement, whether that becomes a long-term prospect or early aspiration.

But at what point in an actor's career should he or she consider consulting with a financial adviser? The easy answer is: when one is earning more money than one needs for basic living expenses, financial obligations, and modest indulgences such as vacations. In general, if the actor has about $100,000 or more in assets available for investing, it is advisable to seek professional guidance. This amount is outside of any real estate holdings or personal checking and savings accounts (in other words, emergency funds). Most big investment firms will not handle clients with a lower asset base. Remember, it is important to find an adviser who understands the entertainment business, the opportunities and risks it presents, and will work with you.

Some actors engage the services of a financial manager who orchestrates all business aspects of an actor's life. However, be cautious, as these people generally receive a high fee—sometimes equal to 5 percent of assets—on top of the fees assessed by the professionals they choose to handle your affairs. A good financial adviser, tax accountant, and estate-planning attorney can individually provide advice while coordinating efforts among themselves with good communication.

The opinions are those of the authors and not necessarily of Raymond James Financial Services or the LLI Advisory Group. Raymond James and LLI Advisory Group are independent entities.

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