The latest drawing for the largest-ever Mega Millions lottery jackpot is almost here -- and lotto fever has swept the country, including military bases. And while you can't buy a Powerball ticket on base, there's probably a gas station or liquor store nearby that is selling them.
The odds of winning are incredibly low -- about 1 in 303 million at the time of this writing for the $970 million prize. But what if you do win?
Military Lottery Winner? Here's What You Want to Know
1. You have to pay taxes. But where? And you thought taxes were complicated before winning the lottery. According to this article, if you do win the entire Mega Millions and elect to take the lump sum, you could be ultimately keeping as "little" (it's all relative, right?) as $276 million. Why? Federal, state, local and city taxes. Whew. That's a big tax bill.
But how does that change if you're a service member? Depending on your home of record, you could be in luck. Residents of Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington or Wyoming pay no personal income tax (score!).
Now, what if you buy a ticket in another state but are a resident of California or Pennsylvania? Those states don't tax lottery winnings ... but if you bought the ticket in state. That means, for those two states, you may still have to pay lotto taxes if you file as a resident there but are stationed elsewhere.
Or, if you are a resident of a state that gives military members a pass on income tax, you might be exempt -- assuming, of course, that your state views lottery earnings as regular income, not a special category.
And what about military spouses? Unless you have residency at your spouse's home of record under the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act (which requires that you have physically lived at the same address with your service member in the state that he or she claims as their home of residency), you're going to be coughing up taxes in the state where you physically live now.
And, finally, what if your spouse buys and gifts you a lottery ticket and you win while deployed and in a tax-exempt status? That might be the ultimate tax loophole. But can you land it? I have no idea. If this happens to you, let me know.
(And, best advice: if you DO win -- talk to a tax expert pronto.)
2. If you win, you won't have to be in the military anymore -- maybe. According to this article, the rumor that if you win the lottery you can get out of your military contract is actually true. As long as you aren't essential personnel, your service very likely could grant you an early honorable discharge as "unique circumstances." As former Seaman and lottery winner Don Burdette told Stars and Stripes, "It's kind of hard to do the rest of your time when you’ve got money on your mind."
3. If you're stationed at a base in one of these places, don't even try to buy a ticket. So you are planning to go purchase a lottery ticket for the next big drawing. Sad news for folks stationed in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah according to this. Those states don't participate. So save yourself the trouble (and from looking like a lotto virgin) and stay home.
I'm planning to win (obviously) -- but if you do instead, remember your favorite military spouse blogger as you dole out your cash gifts.
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