Updated Aug. 7 to include debate over the amount of taxes owed by U.S. medalists.
If Russell Holmes wins an Olympic gold medal in men's volleyball next week, the middleblocker from Fountain Valley can expect a bill from the IRS.
And when Kyla Ross of Aliso Viejo and the “Fab Five” gymnasts return home from London this week, they could be taxed for the gold medals dangling from their necks.
Collectively, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Ross could owe Uncle Sam up to $44,680, according to an anti-tax group's hotly debated analysis.
That's because U.S. law requires athletes to report the value of their Olympic medals and cash prizes as taxable income.
However, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wants to give America's Olympic champions a tax break on their winnings. The Republican lawmaker introduced a bill last Wednesday that would exempt medal winners from paying taxes on their honorariums, calling the penalty “ridiculous.”
Americans who win gold, silver or bronze at the Olympics get cash awards from the U.S. Olympic Committee of tens of thousands of dollars. A gold medalist collects a $25,000 honorarium, a silver medalist $15,000 and a bronze winner $10,000, according to the USOC.
Americans for Tax Reform, a group that opposes tax increases, has calculated that a U.S. Olympic athlete who wins a gold medal could pay up to $8,936 in taxes, based on a 35 percent tax rate on the honorarium and the value of the medal. Under today’s commodity pricing, a gold medal is worth about $675 and a silver medal is worth about $385, while a bronze medal is worth less than $5.
"We need a fundamental overhaul of our tax code, but we shouldn't wait any time we have a chance to aggressively fix ridiculous tax laws like this tax on Olympians' medals and prize money," Rubio said in a statement. "We can all agree that these Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it."
However, some experts disputed claims that gold medal winners might owe the IRS nearly $9,000. The 35 percent tax rate only applies to people earning at least $380,000 a year, according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking service affiliated with the Tampa Bay Times.
Only top athletes like Michael Phelps can approach such a lofty figure, PolitiFact argued. Moreover, athletes could deduct unreimbursed expenses and the cost of training and preparing for the Games, PolitiFact said.
Nevertheless, on Monday, the White House said President Obama would support a proposal like Rubio’s so-called Olympic Tax Elimination Act, which would allow U.S. Olympic athletes to keep their earnings and not be taxed on cash prizes related to medal wins.
"The president believes that we should support efforts . . . to ensure that we are doing everything we can to honor and support our Olympic athletes who have volunteered to represent our nation at the Olympic Games," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, according to CNN.
Mitt Romney, who spearheaded the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, also announced last week that he supports plans to exempt U.S. Olympic athletes from paying federal taxes on the medals and prize money, but didn’t say if he supported Rubio’s plan.
If Congress passes Rubio’s bill, it would affect awards won after Dec. 31, 2011.
To read the full PolitiFact article, click here.
To read a rebuttal to the PolitiFact article, click here.