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Should an Olympic medal earn you a tax break?

By: michelle singletary
August 20, 2016 Updated: August 20, 2016 at 8:37 pm
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My family and I have been mesmerized by the Summer Olympics.

And to be honest, a few times, as we watched Michael Phelps win another gold medal or Simone Biles defy gravity, we thought, "This athlete is going to get paid!"

While it's true that some of the superb competitors see big paydays from their triumphs, many don't end up cashing in.

But here's something else. When those who win get bonuses for their medals, the income is subject to U.S. income tax. The U.S. Olympic Committee gives winners $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for a silver and $10,000 for a bronze.

A bipartisan bill that passed the Senate this summer would exempt the income for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Americans for Tax Reform has drafted a petition to urge the House of Representatives to follow.

"Most countries subsidize their athletes; the very least we can do is make sure our athletes don't get hit with a tax bill for winning," said U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, a co-sponsor of the bill. "After a successful and hard-fought victory, it's just not right for the U.S. to welcome these athletes home with a tax on that victory."

My most recent query in my email newsletter: Should U.S. Olympic winners have to pay taxes on the bonuses they get for winning a medal?

Here's what some of you had to say:

On Twitter, @Eddieca11486276 wrote: "No!!!! They [Olympic athletes] were given to the world to represent the achievements of their country. Let them enjoy the fruit of their labor."

Many people echoed the following comment from another reader: "The federal or state governments that have income taxes are never going to miss the few thousand dollars they might get from taxing the medal winners. We collectively claim success for our great country and society based on their hard work and we ought to reward them; not taxing their prize money seems like a small token of appreciation for their dedication and hard work."

But there were many who don't agree that Olympians deserve a special tax privilege.

"At my corporate job, I'm taxed on any bonus and reward given to me by my employer, even if the reward is an item instead of money," Ruth B. wrote. "If Congress considers changing the taxable status for medal-winning Olympic athletes, they should change the rule for everyone. Why is one person's bonus different than another's?"

The competitors make sacrifices for which they deserve much kudos. But if we are going to carve out a special tax break for Olympic athletes, then we should add to that list all those who serve for the good of society. Just saying.

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Readers can email Singletary at michelle.singletary@washpost.com.

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