Ask anyone: Getting a tattoo for the first time is like eating a potato chip. It’s really hard to have just one.
On Friday, Edward Dearinger got his eighth: a hawk perched atop a branch at sunset on the top of his right forearm. The tattoo ran the 31-year-old actuary from West Chester about $500. Luckily, he’s recently had an infusion of cash: his federal tax refund.
Tax season is the busiest time of year for accountants and the IRS, but tattoo parlors are also a bit like toy stores at Christmastime. Starting around the end of January and ending at the beginning of May, artists get slammed with requests once folks receive that annual bit of disposable income courtesy of Uncle Sam.
“I have so many other things to save up for like a house and paying off student loans,” Dearinger, who has used a portion of his last three tax refunds on tattoos, said from a Kensington shop between sessions. “So when you get a big chunk of change once a year, it’s easier to spend this money a little bit more frivolously.”
The artist, Ross Phillips, who works at Seven Swords Tattoo Co., at 2580 Frankford Ave., acknowledged that not everyone shares how they’re paying, but he estimated that about 30 to 40 percent of his clients this time of year tell him they’re using part of their tax refund to cover the cost of their tattoos. And as someone who’s worked in big cities across the country, he said this trend is consistent everywhere.
“Everyone goes and gets tattoos as soon as they get their tax refunds,” Phillips, 26, said. “Everyone gets really excited around this time of year because we all know it’s the busiest time.”
He’s done the same thing — about three or four times in the past, though it’s hard to keep track of the more than 50 he has. When he gets this year’s refund, he may use a portion to get an “old-school-looking battleship” somewhere on his arm.
“There is no busy season except for tax time,” said Jason Goldberg, owner of Olde City Tattoo at 44 S. Second St. in Philadelphia. He’s been operating for 20 years and said that when he first opened, early winter was slow and summers were busy. Now, there’s no rhyme or reason for a surge in business — except during tax season. “That’s really the only time you know when people are going to be spending money.”
Some clients even schedule their appointments in advance for spring months, anticipating getting a tax refund to use on their tattoo, said Jenny Rahman, an artist at Hunter Gatherer Tattoo at 4510 Walnut St. in University City.
Of course, getting a tattoo — or buying a big-screen TV or paying cash for a used car — is probably not the most financially prudent way to use a tax refund. Gene Marks, a CPA and president of Bala Cynwyd-based Marks Group, said folks who get tax refunds should look to invest the money in something like a retirement account or a 529 plan, a tax-advantaged investment plan for education costs.
“The obvious answer an accountant will tell you is to save your money. Don’t get a tattoo, for God’s sake,” he said, “and try not to blow it elsewhere.”
Austin Ford felt that familiar itch to get another tattoo a couple of years back after he got an illustration smack on his chest of the LOVE Park symbol with his mom’s name inside. He wanted another — a set of wings on the other side of his rib cage that would probably run a couple of hundred bucks.
“I was like ‘I need the money,’ ” the 24-year-old from Blue Bell said. “Then the tax refund hit.”
Ford spent a portion of his federal income tax refund on getting those wings inked. And this year, although he considered using part of his $1,300 refund from his job in wealth management and financial services to get his last name tattooed across the top of his back like a jersey he’ll wear forever, he ultimately decided to pay off some debt instead.
Aidan Mizzer, 22, of Cherry Hill, has used a portion of his tax refund to get a tattoo twice, the first time four years ago when he turned 18 and got the Led Zeppelin Icarus logo (an angelic-looking winged man) tattooed on the back of his hand. Two years ago, he spent a portion of his refund to get a Pink Floyd tribute tattooed on his left forearm.
And this year, he and a friend spent their refunds on a project car they plan to sell. He hopes to use the money to start a sleeve on his right arm.