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The one thing that most people have heard of in regard to child actors are the laws which are in place to protect their earnings.  In California, it is often called Coogan’s Law, named after child actor Jackie Coogan. Other states may refer to it as a Performer’s Trust Account. The laws in each state are slightly different.

History of Coogan: Don’t Trust the Parents

In order to understand the concept of all Performer Trust Accounts, it is helpful to take a look at a little history from Hollywood, where the law originated.

The original Coogan law was passed in reaction to the plight of Jackie Coogan in 1939.  His parents did not “steal” his money per se, as is often reported.  They did what was legally allowed at the time: the “head of household” used the income as family money.  After the Coogan case, the law remained virtually unchanged for decades.  Every few years, a famous child actor would sue their parents and allege that their parents had stolen their money.  This was a tiny percentage of working actors but the publicity gave rise to the public opinion that child actors were generally mistreated. Advocates stepped forward, including several former child actors, to craft laws and regulations within both SAG-AFTRA and the California state legislature. These laws are fundamentally anti-parent — the idea is to keep you from using your child’s earnings. This is important to understand because the anti-parent sentiment is an assumption that fuels all child performer trust laws today.

  • Prior to 2000, the laws that governed mandatory trust accounts for child performers only affected work that was going to be subject to a court-ordered contract.  The standard percentage was 30%. It didn’t include most commercials, or background work, or even some smaller film and tv roles. At that time the Coogan Account requirements and deposit information were included in the wording of the contract. This made it very clear to the employer where the money was to be distributed. The high percentage had become unrealistic though — professional young performers were often now paying high taxes, agent and manager commissions and other standard expenses.  A key case with the Cosby Show children illuminated the fact that it was truly possible to be a series regular on a hit show and be in the red financially.
  • In 2000, there were amendments to the Coogan law that made the mandatory withholdings applicable to ALL work in the entertainment industry (SB1162), but also reduced the percentage to 15%.   At this point, it began to apply to commercials, background work, modeling and all television and film roles. While it may seem that it was best to protect ALL child performers earnings, there was a fundamental problem because there was no specific system created (remember, the court ordered contracts were available before). There were requirements about providing trust account information to employers, but no standardized form or method to do so. Including more child performers in the requirement also greatly increased the volume of deductions and deposits.
  • The 2000 amendment also made ALL of the earnings of the minor child belong to the child. The child owns 100% of their earnings. This is unique to California, and is an exception to the laws in all other states where money earned by a minor belongs to the family.
  • In 2004, more amendments were required because, not too surprisingly, the Coogan system was not sufficient to handle the volume and various account documents. Producers were holding money that they had withheld from child performers, but were unable to locate the account to deposit it. The amendments in 2004 allow producers to send money that they can’t deposit into individual Coogan accounts to The Actors Fund. Other changes included the requirement that a Trustee Statement must be attached to a work permit to ensure the child performer has an account, that a parent has the right to receive a receipt that their child’s Coogan information was received, and that employers need to pay the Coogan portion of the child’s paycheck concurrently with their rest of their paycheck.
  • In 2013, they back-tracked.  By this time it became clear that much of the money going to the Actors Fund Unclaimed Coogan Fund was originated from background actors. The deposits were small — 80% of the depostis were for amounts under $99 –so some parents weren’t bothering to open bank accounts with a minimum deposit, and some studios weren’t bothering with the administrative burden to pay them. AB533 in 2013 exempted background actors from the requirement to withhold 15% in trust.

All of that history provides the basis for every other state law.  Today, several other states have Coogan laws (see the slider chart at the bottom of this page by the blue arrow), and a few such as New Jersey and Georgia, have chosen not to include trust accounts in their child labor law at all.

When Things Go Wrong

How do you know if a deposit wasn’t made?

Doing some additional recordkeeping is highly suggested, and it is really the only way you will know that your child received all of their earnings.  We have a simple form, we call a Coogan Tracking Sheet – to give you an idea.  You really must know that for each check issued to your child 15% was withheld and that those funds were deposited.  No one else is going to monitor this for you.  It isn’t your manager or agent’s responsibility – it is solely the parent who will have access to the necessary records.

What to do if you don’t see a deposit in your child’s Coogan Account

If it has been a very short period of time since the work day, you might choose to wait.  Make a note that you are expecting that deposit and see if it shows up.  If it has been a month or so, you should contact the payroll company for the job.  This information should be on the check, or check stub you received detailing original payment.  It may be that your Coogan information has been misplaced, or there may be some other administrative reason for the delay.

By law, if 6 months have passed, the producers (and payroll company) can transfer the funds to an “unclaimed funds” department.  Where it goes can vary by state.  Any state can send young performer money to The Actors Fund, where it will be placed into the Unclaimed Coogan Account.  The Actors Fund maintains a website and a list of individuals who they have funds for.  This is similar to the way each state would have an unclaimed funds, or escheat system. Keep in mind that the Actors Fund data is only as good as what they were given.  Names are frequently misspelled and inverted (last name first, first name last).  Every working child actor should review the list periodically to see if their name is on it.  Of  course, if you are keeping accurate records you will know , in which case you should check to see if the funds you are looking for have been sent to The Actors Fund.

In addition to the Actors Fund, employers may choose to send money to their state unclaimed funds department.  Check your state and the state where you worked for these possibilities (see slider box at the bottom of this page).  Most child actors end up with money in all of these places.

 

Start Here: How to check to see if your child’s earnings have been sent to The Actors Fund

Check the Unclaimed Coogan website for your child’s name (or variation, as outlined above).  If you find their name, follow the detailed instructions on how to claim the money.  In general, a child who is still a minor will have to provide their Trustee Statement, and the funds will be transferred to that Coogan Account. If the child performer who earned the money is no longer a minor, there are specific documents required to claim the earnings, and upon completing them, the money will be sent directly to the person who earned it.

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But I don’t live or work In California… what about other states?

First, know that many child performers fall under the jurisdiction of the California Coogan law without ever working a day in California. If the corporation employing them is a California corporation (as most major film and television studios are), the employer will require you to follow the California requirements. There are other states which have Trust account provisions. We suggest that it might be more efficient to open a California Coogan Account (a blocked Coogan) because you may be required to have that type of account in the future, should your child become successful.

The Coogan system, while well-intentioned, does not work very well. It is our estimation that something goes wrong with the Coogan process in 25-50% of the paychecks.

BizParentz has had some involvement in every child performer trust account bill since 2004, and we have worked hard to make the system function as well as possible. We are committed to making sure every child actor has their earnings! Even so, the burden falls on each parent to handle their own child’s finances. We encourage you to take an active role in making this happen: commit to tracking every single paycheck, balance the child’s bank statements, and make sure employers have your child’s account information. No matter what state you are in, check The Actors Fund Unclaimed Coogan website, and check your own state’s unclaimed funds (in NY, the Comptroller, for example).

It is our goal to eliminate all “missing Coogan money”. You can help us by checking the lists for other child actors you know and letting them know you “found” money for them.You can help us by educating other parents about how often this system goes awry, and what they can do to help all children get the money they earned.

Want more info? See our article about California Coogan Law. 

New York does have a Coogan-like system for child performers. This system has a very significant difference from California’s Coogan law—in NY, the funds are not blocked . The NY accounts are simply trust savings accounts (UTMA or UGMA), so the parents can use the money for any expense on behalf of the child. Because of this difference, the NY “Coogan” accounts are not acceptable in California (the money is really not protected). In NY, 15% of the minor’s earnings should be withheld by the employer and deposited into the account set up by the parent. The employer has 30 days from the start of employment to deposit the money into your child’s trust account. If the money goes unpaid presumably because the parent did not provide their account information to the employer) then the 15% will go to the State of NY Child Performer ‘s Holding Fund.

Click here for specific requirements about New York Law and the NY Child Performer’s Holding Fund.

Louisiana has a blocked trust account system, very similar to California’s system. Louisiana “Coogan” accounts are to be set up by the parents—BOTH parents must be listed as trustees—before the execution of the contract. The account may not be charged fees, by law, and parents are charged with investing in a combination of bonds, CDs or savings accounts at the highest possible interest rate without risking the principal. 15% of the minor’s earnings are to be deposited into this blocked account.

Unpaid Coogan: If an account is not set up within 30 days of the last day of employment, the employer may send the funds to the Treasurer of the State of Louisiana who will hold the funds in trust.

Click here for more on Louisiana Law.

The Trust requirement in New Mexico applies only to jobs with $1,000 gross earnings or greater. The account is to be opened in child’s state of residence within 7 days of signing a contract. The Trustee is to notify employer of the account specifications within 15 days of employment. The employer is to provide the trustee with a receipt upon accepting bank information. If an employer is unable to complete the transaction, they are to transfer funds to the district court in 90 days. The District Court is to appoint a trustee if they receive funds from an employer.

Click here for more on New Mexico Law.

Although the deposit is 15%, like the other states, Pennsylvania has some unique features for their Trust Accounts:

  • They explicitly mention reality TV performers as being covered by this law.
  • They allow a child performer trust account established in another state to suffice for Pennsylvania.
  • They nallow a 529 qualified tuition program to be used as a Coogan account.
  • The requirement to open an account kicks in if the minor is entitled to receive residuals in accordance with a principal agreement OR earnings are anticipated to exceed $2,500 for the production (before taxes) OR if the minor has already earned in excess of $2,500 in prior employment in performance.
  • They specifically include corporate entities like loan out corporations.

The employer has 30 days to pay the Coogan portion.  If the minor’s employer has not been notified within 15 days of commencement of employment of the existence of a child performer trust account (you didn’t give them your account info) the employer SHALL (not may, but they have to)  transfer such payment together with the minor’s name and last known address to the State Treasurer for placement into a child performer trust account for the benefit of the minor.

Click here for more on Pennsylvania Law. 

Big Picture

The Coogan system, while well-intentioned, does not work very well. It is our estimation that something goes wrong with the Coogan process in 25-50% of the paychecks.

BizParentz has had some involvement in every child performer trust account bill since 2004, and we have worked hard to make the system function as well as possible. We are committed to making sure every child actor has their earnings! Even so, the burden falls on each parent to handle their own child’s finances. We encourage you to take an active role in making this happen: commit to tracking every single paycheck, balance the child’s bank statements, and make sure employers have your child’s account information. No matter what state you are in, check The Actors Fund Unclaimed Coogan website, and check your own state’s unclaimed funds (in NY, the Comptroller, for example).

It is our goal to eliminate all “missing Coogan money”. You can help us by checking the lists for other child actors you know and letting them know you “found” money for them.You can help us by educating other parents about how often this system goes awry, and what they can do to help all children get the money they earned.

Want more info? See our article about California Coogan Law. 

NY

New York does have a Coogan-like system for child performers. This system has a very significant difference from California’s Coogan law—in NY, the funds are not blocked . The NY accounts are simply trust savings accounts (UTMA or UGMA), so the parents can use the money for any expense on behalf of the child. Because of this difference, the NY “Coogan” accounts are not acceptable in California (the money is really not protected). In NY, 15% of the minor’s earnings should be withheld by the employer and deposited into the account set up by the parent. The employer has 30 days from the start of employment to deposit the money into your child’s trust account. If the money goes unpaid presumably because the parent did not provide their account information to the employer) then the 15% will go to the State of NY Child Performer ‘s Holding Fund.

Click here for specific requirements about New York Law and the NY Child Performer’s Holding Fund.

Louisiana

Louisiana has a blocked trust account system, very similar to California’s system. Louisiana “Coogan” accounts are to be set up by the parents—BOTH parents must be listed as trustees—before the execution of the contract. The account may not be charged fees, by law, and parents are charged with investing in a combination of bonds, CDs or savings accounts at the highest possible interest rate without risking the principal. 15% of the minor’s earnings are to be deposited into this blocked account.

Unpaid Coogan: If an account is not set up within 30 days of the last day of employment, the employer may send the funds to the Treasurer of the State of Louisiana who will hold the funds in trust.

Click here for more on Louisiana Law.

New Mexico

The Trust requirement in New Mexico applies only to jobs with $1,000 gross earnings or greater. The account is to be opened in child’s state of residence within 7 days of signing a contract. The Trustee is to notify employer of the account specifications within 15 days of employment. The employer is to provide the trustee with a receipt upon accepting bank information. If an employer is unable to complete the transaction, they are to transfer funds to the district court in 90 days. The District Court is to appoint a trustee if they receive funds from an employer.

Click here for more on New Mexico Law.

Pennsylvania

Although the deposit is 15%, like the other states, Pennsylvania has some unique features for their Trust Accounts:

  • They explicitly mention reality TV performers as being covered by this law.
  • They allow a child performer trust account established in another state to suffice for Pennsylvania.
  • They nallow a 529 qualified tuition program to be used as a Coogan account.
  • The requirement to open an account kicks in if the minor is entitled to receive residuals in accordance with a principal agreement OR earnings are anticipated to exceed $2,500 for the production (before taxes) OR if the minor has already earned in excess of $2,500 in prior employment in performance.
  • They specifically include corporate entities like loan out corporations.

The employer has 30 days to pay the Coogan portion.  If the minor’s employer has not been notified within 15 days of commencement of employment of the existence of a child performer trust account (you didn’t give them your account info) the employer SHALL (not may, but they have to)  transfer such payment together with the minor’s name and last known address to the State Treasurer for placement into a child performer trust account for the benefit of the minor.

Click here for more on Pennsylvania Law.