Does a voice actor need insurance? Yes, and no. And Yes.
May 23 2018
You’re trained, your voice-over career is off to a great start, and things are going well. There’s nobody else quite like you. You’ve landed a healthy supply of steady voice-over clients, or are clearly starting to. What could possibly go wrong?
Indeed. One never knows about the future. That’s why there is insurance. Are you (as they say in the insurance game) hazardously “exposed”? Whether your voice-over business is long-established or just getting started, it is, in fact, a business. And any business worthy of the term “professional” should be protected by appropriate coverage.
But for a freelancer, and voice actors in particular, exactly what does that mean?
PLEASE NOTE: We are not tax or insurance experts. Our intent here is only to raise your awareness. Before making any major decision in these areas, please fully inform yourself or consult a qualified professional.
There are various types of insurance to consider. Some, you might consider a necessity. Others, maybe a luxury. But you should consider them. Because insurance is a luxury only when you will never need it.
We know what this is. If you get seriously ill, the insurance pays all or part of your healthcare expenses. And, in protection of the insurance company’s own interest, they will probably pay for some preventative care and checkups.
Since your business IS you, it’s natural to think of health insurance as a necessary business expense. But for you as a solo worker, it’s actually a personal deduction, a special one for self-employed people. That affects how you may deduct it, and what other taxes it may or may not affect. For example, the deduction applies to your various income taxes, but not to your self-employment tax. There are also considerations as to how much you may deduct, and what business income it may be deducted from.
The importance of health insurance important to you and your family personally should be obvious. The reason it’s important to your business is because it helps you stay and/or become healthier longer. An unhealthy voice actor isn’t exactly open for business.
Political arguments aside, your age should not be a consideration. Although even for a younger person health insurance isn’t cheap, it may cost less. (And, please note, we’re talking about quality insurance, not garbage policies that may not truly cover what you need covered … namely your, uh, rear end.) Likely you’ve known people who became seriously ill at a young age. And as a young person you might indulge in riskier activities, such as cycling, climbing, kayaking, etc. One’s age is rarely a factor in falling off a bike or getting hit by a car. (By the way, wearing a bike helmet is also essential insurance!)
As for a recommendation, we’ll limit ourselves to suggesting that you should get whatever insurance covers what you would not be able to survive on your own. It may be a relatively limited policy, or even be limited to catastrophic situations. It depends on your cash flow, how much you have in the bank, your family and many other considerations.
If you do get seriously ill, health insurance helps make you well. But what if you can’t work in the meantime? That’s where Disability Insurance comes in. It pays a substantial percentage of your typical income until you are able to resume working in your profession.
But for voice actors, it poses an interesting question: What does “disabled” mean?
Contrast voice acting with other professions. For example, if you’re a sign painter or construction worker and you break your arm, your inability to work will probably be clear, and will require a course of medical care. At the other extreme, if you’re an office assistant or salesperson and temporarily lose your voice, you’ll probably get it back in a few days, or at least you will talk well enough to carry on with your work … so you won’t need insurance to pay for that short period.
But if you’re a voice actor and your voice is changed … what? How about if you develop an allergy and have a stuffy nose for the entire month of May? Is there really insurance that will cover that?
In fact, there is. But it involves some careful shopping and investigation. Disability insurance is available from various sources. But from what we’ve seen in a quick look at various sales pages and booklets, coverage and standards may vary greatly. For example, SAG-AFTRA’s Disability Pensions appear to cover only “Total Disability,” which is defined as unsuitability for “any gainful employment.” And note the difference between a disability pension and disability insurance. The former may pay for the rest of your life, while the latter may pay only while you are temporarily disabled.
(Although a pension is different from temporary insurance benefits, and thus outside our discussion, it is instructive to note that SAG-AFTRA states it has “two types of Disability Pensions: A Disability Pension which applies to all types of total disability; and an Occupational Disability Pension which applies to work-incurred total disabilities.”)
As far as we know, SAG-AFTRA does not itself offer Disability insurance, although it might offer advice and maybe a discount.
Freelancers Union does offer Long Term Disability (LTD) insurance, for when you can’t work for a long time. As we write this, they have one plan that starts paying 30 days after you become disabled, another that starts paying after 90 days. The delay is called an Elimination Period,” and as you would suspect, the plan with the longer wait is less expensive.
There are other details you’ll need to understand. For example, Disability insurance typically pays only 60 to 65% of your usual income. And in some cases, you may need to have established your average income over a previous period which may be as long as two years. What if you’ve only been in business for one year? Good question.
But, as we asked above, when is a voice actor considered “disabled”? You might sound fine to the average person, maybe a bit hoarse, but if you won’t sound like that two months from now, or you don’t sound like you did last month, can you even get a gig? And if you could work at some other type of job available to you, are you really “disabled.”
But there are some disability policies designed especially for actors. Many insurers shy away from the entertainment industry because for many people it’s not a steady job. How can you pay disability benefits to someone who might be out of work anyway? Or how can an insurer know how much income you’re losing?
We do know of at least one plan designed for Entertainment industry workers: the Entertainment Industry Disability Insurance Plan from Petersen International Underwriters. It’s not just for actors, but most people in the field, from writers to lighting technicians. We don’t know enough about it to recommend it, or even if it’s affordable. But it, probably along with some other options, is there. In fact, the example at their website involves a voice actor.
And apparently their policy pays in the event of Total Disability, even if with that disability you are able to be employed in some occupation other than the one you had in the past year. So if you can’t speak, but you can wait tables, type or lay bricks, it seems they could still consider you disabled.
If you’re over 60 or 65 years old, you might find it difficult or impossible to obtain Disability insurance of any kind, or that payments might stop at that point. Also important, consider whether or not you need to include riders that might be available. For example, if you also act on camera, a disfigurement rider. Or coverage if your disability reduces your income but you are not totally professionally disabled.
Health insurance and Disablity insurance protect you if you yourself are not physically well. But your business can become fatally ill due to unforeseeable circumstances having nothing to do with your personal health.
That’s where Liability insurance comes in.
For example, what if you do a character voice and a famous person’s estate claims it infringes on that person’s identity? Or you promise to have a set of commercials ready by a client’s Big Sale date and your recording equipment fails? Or maybe you just read something tragically wrong and nobody caught it until too late? The error or failure might have been avoidable, maybe not. In any case, liability insurance comes to the rescue.
In fact, some clients will require it as a condition of contracting your services. So you should at least be prepared and know where to turn.
Unlike some types of insurance, liability might be configurable to match the sorts of liability you could be exposed to. For example, as a voice actor, you’re unlikely to be sued for stomach-poisoning someone. But unlike a restaurateur, you might be sued for copyright infringement. So discuss your needs and options during the quotation process.
Basically, there are two types of liability insurance:
- Errors and omissions (E&O). This applies to exposure as a result of your own professional services.
- Commercial General Liability (CGL or GL). If a fellow actor or client trips in your studio, or on your walkway outside your house, this covers you. If you damage somebody’s property, you may be covered.
In obtaining any insurance that covers your professional services and/or equipment, be sure that it actually does. Just as your personal Homeowner or Renter’s insurance covers your personal possessions, but maybe not your professional equipment, there may be a distinction in liability coverage, too. Personal insurance may or may not cover professional visitors. Also inquire as to whether it covers you on and off your own premises. For example, if you knock someone down with your bicycle (although that’s unlikely to be related to voice-over services), are you covered?
Other types of insurance
In virtually any situation where there is risk, there is insurance available for it — although for some risks you might find it available only from the likes of Lloyd’s of London.
For common risks, other types of insurance include life insurance, dental insurance, vehicle insurance, home or rental insurance, flood insurance, and other coverages that might be appropriate for you.
(However, we’re still trying to find a dental insurance plan that doesn’t pretty much pay out only as much as you’ve paid in. Unlike other forms of medical coverage, it’s not really a “bet” between you and the insurer as to whether you’ll have a claim — sooner or later everyone needs dental work and preventative care, so It’s more a sure thing that they’ll have to pay. They therefore make it “self-liquidating.” Ask your dentist. Rather than dental insurance, he or she might recommend a dental discount plan.)
If you’re so wealthy that you can absorb any medical expense and laugh off any lawsuit, then … well, never mind.
Do you have a comment or suggestion? Please send to Marketing@EdgeStudio.com.
(Reminder: These are not recommendations and may be inaccurate or out of date. Consider them to be only starting points)
The Self-Employed Health Insurance Deduction By Stephen Fishman, J.D.
Everything freelancers need to know about disability insurance By Larissa Pham
Everything freelancers need to know about liability insurance By Freelancers Union
Entertainment Industry Disability Insurance Plan Petersen International Underwriters
SAG-AFTRA Health Plan: Disability (form)
SAG-AFTRA Member Benefits
EdgeStudio.com Voice Over Education Blog: Business & Money