I received a letter from Bank of America recently—they have stopped opening new Coogan Accounts, and wanted me to update my website’s Resources Page to remove them from the list of financial institutions that offer this service. While I appreciate B of A’s reaching out to me, I’m sad to see a big bank drop this important service off its list.
All actors under the age of 18 in the state of California—which is to say, actors who either live here or are doing work here, even if they legally reside in another state—are required to open a Coogan Account (also known as a blocked trust account) before they are allowed to work.
This means that if you are coming to Los Angeles to audition for anything—even for a short time, like a week or two—you need to have this account set up and in place. If your audition leads to a role, depending on the type of role/production, you could be on set literally the next day, and production will expect you to have the paperwork in order. No Coogan Account, no work.
This applies not only to film and TV, but also to commercials, modeling, voiceover work, etc. New York, Louisiana, and New Mexico have similar laws. The intention of the Coogan law is that a minimum of 15% of each dollar a young actor makes goes into an account that is untouchable until they turn 18. It is named after Jackie Coogan, the child star from the 1930s whose fortune was squandered by his parents.
Here is a link to the SAG-AFTRA page on the Coogan Law:
The second piece of paperwork an actor under the age of 18 must have in place before they are allowed to work is a work permit. This is true whether they are an infant (babies are allowed to “work” from 15 days old onwards—IF they have an entertainment work permit!) or a teen. Work permits and their requirements vary widely from state to state, but in California they are perhaps the strictest in the country. California is serious about protecting the rights of minors.
Entertainment Work Permits can be applied for online, via mail, or in person in the Van Nuys CA office. Note that for minors in grades 1 through 12, school officials must sign off on attendance, grades, and health as “satisfactory” for the permit to be approved, and for kids 15 days through kindergarten, some form of government ID is required—a photocopy of a birth certificate or passport. Allow some time for this process—don’t start AFTER a young actor is cast, or it will likely be too late!
Here is a link to the California State Division of Labor Standards Enforcement website, where you can find more detailed and updated information:
The only exception to the requirement for a work permit for actors under the age of 18 is if they have passed the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), which allows them to work as a “legal 18,”—which is to say, to work adult hours, including overtime, as well as be free of the requirement of a set teacher. There are pros and cons to pursuing a CHSPE certificate, which I go into in greater detail in my book, The Hollywood Parents Guide.
Meanwhile, you can check out the basic requirements and test dates on the CHSPE website: https://www.chspe.net/
The CHSPE is conducted three times a year, generally in October, March, and June, and the test is available to minors who on the test date:
- are at least 16 years old, or
- have been enrolled in the tenth grade for one academic year or longer, or
- will complete one academic year of enrollment in the tenth grade at the end of the semester during which the next regular administration will be conducted. (Regular administrations are the fall and spring administration each school year.)
Help your young actor succeed by making sure all their legally required paperwork is in place, so when they get that role, they can take it!
My book, The Hollywood Parents Guide, available on Amazon contains everything I wish I’d known when Dove and I started this journey, and will save you untold amounts of time, money, and stress. Full of information you MUST know, it also features stories from parents of other kids who’ve made it!
Or book an hour consulting with me to come up with an individualized plan that takes your own unique needs into account. For about the cost of an hour with a professional acting coach, you can get your questions answered and a road map to help you move forward toward your dream.
Invest a little in your kid’s future today.
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