Lottery luck, Social Security and taxes

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I admit it. I was a little miffed that an 84-year-old won the recent $591 million Powerball jackpot. Not to be ageist, but really, couldn’t someone a little younger — and by a little younger, I mean me! — get a little lucky?

The winner, Zephyrhills, Fla., resident Gloria C. Mackenzie, had a lot of things go her way in connection with the winning ticket.

Another customer at the grocery store where Mackenzie bought her ticket let her go ahead in the lottery line. Since Mackenzie’s winning numbers were from a randomly generated ticket, getting that particular configuration was literally the luck of the draw at that time.

Then there’s Mackenzie’s tax luck.

Sure, in taking her winnings as a lump-sum payment of almost $371 million, the Florida grandmother had to immediately hand the Internal Revenue Service 25 percent of the money. That gives her “just” $278 million or so to bank.

But since she lives in Florida, she doesn’t have to worry about state income taxes.

Prepare to win, pay taxes

Mackenzie also is smart. She showed up at the Florida lottery headquarters with two attorneys and a financial adviser in tow.

Lottery spokesman David Bishop said the group was “very prepared” and spent about two hours going through the necessary paperwork. “They had clearly been preparing for this. They took all this time to get everything in order,” Bishop said.

Mackenzie also will need those advisers for additional tax guidance in the coming months.

She’ll be getting a W-2G form with specifics on her winning amount and the taxes she paid upon receipt. Since she’s now in the top 39.6 percent tax rate income bracket, she’ll have to pay the remainder of her taxes due on the lottery money with her 2013 Form 1040.

If she invests some of her winnings, a safe bet since she has a financial adviser, depending on how well those investments do she’ll have to continue to file tax returns to report those taxable earnings.

Possible Social Security taxes, too

And although Mackenzie is guarding her privacy — she didn’t speak to the media gathered to watch her claim her jackpot — it’s also probably safe to assume that at age 84 she is collecting Social Security.

Her future lottery-based investment income could mean she’ll face taxes on a part of those government retirement checks.

Generally, Social Security benefits aren’t taxable if they are a senior citizen’s only income. But if a person collects other income in addition to Social Security, he or she could owe taxes on at least a portion of their federal retirement benefits.

How much of  Social Security might Uncle Sam tax? As much as 85 percent of your benefits could be taxed if your supplemental retirement income is significant.

Of course, I’m sure that a little thing like taxes isn’t going to tarnish the glow of being the winner of the largest jackpot ever won by a single lottery ticket holder.

And although I’m still ticked that I didn’t match a single number in that big lottery draw, Mackenzie’s luck has provided me with a new lottery playing strategy. From now on, I’m giving my 78-year-old mother my $5 and having her buy my Powerball and Mega Millions tickets!


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Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book “The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes” and a co-author of the e-book “Future Millionaires’ Guidebook.”