Are Game Show Prize Winnings Taxable? You Betcha




game show prize taxes
Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Although the winnings from a game show can change a lucky winner’s life instantly, their after-winning-life might not be as splendid and impressive as most of us think.

I always had the dream of making an appearance on game shows such as The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune, and Let’s Make a Deal. The truth is, game show winnings are always a two-sided coin and often a suckers bet in my opinion.

While you’ll have magnificent on-air memories to perhaps cherish for years, you’ll also be taken to the terrible secrets of game show winnings: The burden of having to pay taxes on your winnings.

It’s something that you’ll never hear a game show’s host mention on TV, but you can always count on, that the IRS will always come for their share!

For this reason, let’s look at some issues revolving around paying taxes on game show winnings, whether it’s a new car, thousands of dollars in cash, or a fully-paid vacation to the Bahamas (which reminds me, I need a vacation.)

Are Game Show Winnings Taxed?

Yes, In the United States, winners have to pay game show prize taxes. This is basically because the government views game show winnings as taxable income. It doesn’t matter whether the prize is in liquid cash or non-monetary, the winners are required to pay taxes on prizes won.

Most viewers often assume that the winner is often given their money or prizes right away after the show. If only it were that easy!

I laugh at how deceptive this actually is

Check out this article about Andrea Schwartz who won big prizes on one of my all time favorite game-shows The Price Is Right.

Winning ‘The Price Is Right’ Is Great, Until You Get The Tax Bill

Here’s a quick summary of the article: After winning any game show or contest, you’ll sign some paperwork and agree that you’re going to pay taxes on the prizes. When it’s all said and done, the winner will most definitely get a 1099-MISC tax form from the show’s organizers, who are also obligated to send a copy to the IRS. And even if they do not provide you with the 1099 tax form, you still have to report the value of the winnings. Failure to do so can result in huge penalties!

How Much Will You Be Taxed?

The amount of tax you’ll pay on game show winnings depends on where you live and how much you win. You’ll have to pay federal taxes, as well as state taxes. If you, however, live in states that do not have income taxes such as Washington, Nevada, Texas, Alaska, Florida, South Dakota, and Wyoming, you may not have to pay state taxes on your game show winnings.

You’ll still owe Uncle Sam though (The U.S. Federal Government.)

Just like in lottery winnings, depending on your tax bracket, the IRS often expects you to pay a top rate tax of 37% on the gross value of the prize won, and this is on Federal tax alone! So suppose you won $10 million on a game show in the state of California where I live, you’ll have to pay a state income tax of about 12.3% plus the federal income tax of 37%.


Can You Avoid Paying Game Show Prize Taxes?

There are a few occasions when you can avoid paying game show prize taxes. For instance, game show winnings and other 1099 based income that are worth below $600 are not taxed by the IRS.

Another way to avoid paying game show prize taxes is by offering the winnings as gifts to friends and family members. Even though this means that you won’t keep the winnings for yourself, it’s a way to avoid the tax burden.

Either way, you need to speak with a Financial Advisor to understand how much and how to properly report on that year’s tax return!

Is It Better To Win Cash Than A Car Or Vacation?

Recently I had a conversation with my CPA about whether someone is better winning cash or an actual prize. What I learned was, it depends. But most of the time, you’re probably better off taking the cash. If you win cash, you can simply set aside a portion of your winnings to cover the tax.

If you win a non-cash prize it can be quite a burden since you’ll have to pay taxes based on the value of your winnings. And the value can be highly subjective. For example, you could win a car and they say it’s worth 40,000 dollars, but, you could buy the same car on a weekend close-out sale from your local dealer for 35k.

Wheel of Fortune is famous for giving cash prizes and vacation trips. The value of those trips will be counted as income for you, I recently read an article on MarketWatch which tells exactly what can happen.

Matt McMahan who won cash and prizes worth $16,400 and two vacation trips valued at $15,300.

The IRS not only taxed his cash and prize winnings, but he had to pay tax on the two vacations. Fortunately, most shows do offer cash prizes in place of the trips, so you should consider going for the cash. Especially if you have to raise cash to pay for the taxes on the actual prize.

Is it really free then?

I’d take the cash and book my own vacation with as many discount deals as possible!

If You Do Ever Get Lucky And Win Remember…

  • Consider paying the applicable or estimated taxes on any prize as soon as you win.
  • Always know the exact value of your winnings. Show organizers may inflate the value to entice more participants or to reduce their tax obligations.
  • Always consider going for cash instead of non-cash prizes such as a vacation.
  • Do not be afraid to turn down any winnings if they may become a tax burden.
  • Remember, to cover yourself, always seek out professional help for your tax planning etc.

Final Thoughts

Have you won any game show prizes before? How did it work out?

I’ve never been lucky to win any real big prizes before. I did try out for the Weakest Link a long time ago in the early 2000s. It never went anywhere though.

If you’re a fan of the Price is Right with Bob Barker, I highly recommend you watch their YouTube Channel.


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