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Hit it big playing the lottery? You’re probably thinking about how you’ll spend all that sweet cash. But first, Uncle Sam is going to want his cut.
The Internal Revenue Service considers lottery money as gambling winnings, which are taxed as ordinary income. The total amount of tax you pay on your lottery winnings will depend on multiple factors, including the state where you live and whether you take the winnings as a lump-sum payment (one check for the full amount after taxes have been withheld) or an annuity (smaller annual payments that are paid out and taxed over time).
Although you probably won’t be able to completely escape the tax man, you may be able to offset taxes on lottery winnings by claiming deductions you qualify for. Here are some things to know about paying federal income taxes on lottery winnings. Keep in mind tax rules may vary for state and local income taxes, so for the purposes of this article, we’re talking about federal income taxes only.
- Do I have to pay taxes on lottery winnings?
- What is the tax rate for lottery winnings?
- Should I take a lump sum or annuity payments?
- How can I offset taxes on lottery winnings?
The IRS considers most types of income taxable, unless the tax code specifically says it’s not. Because lottery winnings are considered gambling winnings, which are definitely considered taxable income, the IRS will want its cut.
For lottery winnings, that means one of two things.
- You’ll either pay taxes on all the winnings in the year you receive the money — for winnings paid out as a lump-sum payment.
- Or you’ll pay taxes only on the amount you receive each year — for winnings paid as an annuity.
Take note: If you receive interest on annuity installments that haven’t been paid to you yet, that interest must be included in your gross income for the tax year you received it.
How will the IRS know about my lottery winnings?
If your winnings are $600 or more, the lottery agency is supposed to give you a Form W-2G that you’ll have to file with your federal income tax return if the agency withheld federal income tax from your winnings.
The lottery agency is also required to send a copy of this form to the IRS if your winnings are $600 or more, so it’s important to accurately report your winnings on your federal tax return.
And even if you don’t receive a W-2G for your lottery winnings (or other type of gambling payouts), you’re still expected to report those winnings as income on your federal tax return.
How could winning the lottery affect my taxes overall?
Getting a huge financial windfall can be life-changing, but it doesn’t change everything — you’ll still have to pay taxes and bills. Federal and state taxes can decrease the amount of money you ultimately receive, so it’s crucial to understand taxes on lottery winnings when you strike it big.
Whether you’re all-in on your prize money and accept it as a lump sum or you’re receiving payments over time, winning the lottery generally increases your income. Taxes are calculated based on your taxable income for the year, so if the extra income from lottery winnings moves you into a higher tax bracket, you’ll typically end up paying more income tax.
If you fail to report taxable income (including lottery winnings) on your tax return, you could owe additional tax, interest and even penalties.
Depending on where you live, you may need to pay taxes on lottery winnings to your state and local governments in addition to the federal government.
Right off the bat, lottery agencies are required to withhold 24% from winnings of $5,000 or more, which goes to the federal government. But, depending on whether your winnings affect your tax bracket, there could potentially be a gap between the mandatory withholding amount and what you’ll ultimately owe the IRS.
Even if your lottery winnings don’t boost your tax bracket, if the federal government withheld too much tax on your lottery winnings, you might get a refund at tax time.
State and local tax
Each state has its own rules on taxing lottery winnings, so check both your state’s tax website and your city’s tax website for information. For example, if you live and win in New York City, the state government will withhold 8.82% and the city will withhold another 3.876% — on top of your base federal withholding of 24%.
Seven states — Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming — don’t have income tax, so big winners in those states won’t pay state taxes on prize money. Some other states don’t have a state lottery at all.
And three more states — California, New Hampshire and Tennessee — exclude their state lottery winnings from taxable income. But before you play the lottery in a different state, check the rules so that you know whether any taxes will apply to your winnings.
Whether you get to choose between a lump sum or annual installments for your lottery payout can depend on different factors, like state lottery rules and how much you won. Either way, here’s how the two payout types will affect your federal income taxes.
Receiving your winnings as a single lump sum could potentially bump you right into the highest bracket for the tax year in which you win the lottery. That would mean if you win a very large amount, your income over a set threshold ($518,401 for single taxpayers and $622,051 for married couples filing jointly, for 2020) would be taxed by the IRS at 37%.
“If you decide to have a lump sum payment, that would probably put you in the higher tax bracket for that one year,” says Megan McManus, CPA and owner at Megan McManus, CPA.
For example, if you’re single and your current taxable income is $40,000, a $1 million lottery payout, taken in a lump sum, would increase your total income to $1,040,000 for the tax year. At the federal level, the portion of your income over $518,401 would be taxed at 37%. But all the lower tax rates would also apply to portions of your income less than that threshold. Here’s what you’d pay (rounded to the nearest dollar).
- 10% on income up to $9,700 = $970
- 12% on the next $29,775 = $3,573
- 22% on the next $44,725 = $9,839
- 24% on the next $76,525 = $18,366
- 32% on the next $43,375 = $13,880
- 35% on the next $306,200 = $107,170
- 37% on the last $529,700 = $195,989
If you add all that up, your total federal income tax obligation for the year would be $349,787.
Annual payments impact
Depending on your income, receiving annual payments will also likely affect your tax bracket — but the immediate financial impact could be less.
“The annuity payments would probably allow you to be in a lower tax bracket each year,” McManus says.
Let’s look at the above scenario with the same amount of lottery winnings broken out into 30 annual payments of about $33,333.
With the annuity approach, your taxable income would increase to just $73,333 in the year you won the lottery (assuming other factors like a wage increase didn’t boost your taxable income). The highest federal tax rate that would apply to your income would be just 22%. Here’s what you’d pay (rounded to the nearest dollar).
- 10% on up to $9,700 = $970
- 12% on the next $29,775 = $3,573
- 22% on the remaining $33,858 = $7,449
Your total federal income tax obligation for the year in which you win would be just $11,992.
Learn more about the marginal tax rate and what it means for your winnings.
If you’ve won the lottery, the IRS expects you to report it as income on your tax return. And Uncle Sam is going to want his share whether you receive your winnings as a lump sum or annual payments. But there are ways to try to offset the increased tax obligation your lottery winnings will cause.
Deductions are dollar amounts the IRS allows you to subtract from your adjusted gross income, or AGI, if you meet the requirements. This lowers your taxable income, which in turn can reduce your tax obligation. Here are two possible deductions (if you itemize).
- Charitable donations — You may be able to deduct the value of your charitable contributions from your income as long as the organization is a qualified tax-exempt organization — but certain conditions and limits apply. For example, you can only deduct cash donations that are equal to no more than 60% of your AGI.
- Gambling losses — You can deduct your gambling losses (like the cost of lottery tickets that you didn’t win on) as long as they don’t exceed the winnings you report as income. For example, if you report $1,000 in winnings but you have $2,000 in losses, you can only deduct $1,000.
Play the lottery in a pool
If you join a pool with others to buy lottery tickets, then any potential lottery prizes will be smaller because you’re sharing it — but your tax hit will be smaller, too.
“You’ll only be taxed on your portion of the income,” McManus says, “so if you receive a third of the winnings, you would only pay tax on that third.”
To make sure you’re taxed correctly, document how much of the winnings go to each person in your group. Ask the lottery agency to cut checks for each person in the pool instead of having one person collect and distribute the winnings. This may help ensure you only pay taxes on the amount you actually receive.
Winning the lottery could change your life by giving you a certain level of financial freedom. But before claiming your prize, consider speaking with a financial or tax adviser who can help you understand the potential tax impact of your winnings and plan the best way to manage your windfall.
Consider how you plan to use the money.
“If you want to buy a house or put your kids through college, you might need the funds now, as opposed to taking annual payments,” McManus says.
But if your objective is to ensure a steady stream of income, annual payments may be more appealing to you.
Whether you receive your lottery winnings as a lump sum or annual payments though, you’ll still have to pay the federal government — and possibly your state and local government — their share of your winnings. So it’s important to have a plan for how to best save, invest and grow the winnings you’ll keep.
Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma Tax®. She has more than a dozen years of experience in tax, accounting and business operations. Christina founded her own accounting consultancy and managed it for more than six years. She codeveloped an online DIY tax-preparation product, serving as chief operating officer for seven years. She is the current treasurer of the National Association of Computerized Tax Processors and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration/accounting from Baker College and an MBA from Meredith College. You can find her on LinkedIn.