The Price Is Right ... and the Taxes Are High

Andrea Schwartz on "The Price Is Right" (photo: Freemantle Entertainment)

There is no such thing as a free lunch ... or an all-expenses paid trip to Acapulco. That's what "The Price Is Right" contestant Andrea Schwartz found out when she scored $33,000 worth of prizes, including a shiny red Mazda 2 compact car, a pool table, and a shuffle board table, on the popular television game show.

Schwartz told Yahoo! Shine that contestants won't quite know what hit them if they make it on to the show. "It's a whirlwind, they kind of shove you around, and then you are suddenly in the parking lot, saying, 'I just played Plinko.'" You may not be prepared for the hefty taxes you'll owe before picking up your prize, either.

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"Yeah, you don't just drive off the back lot with the car like I thought the entire time I was growing up," Schwartz said in a recent interview with the A.V. Club. "After the show, you fill out some paperwork and basically sign your life away. You say that you're going to pay the taxes on it. If you win in California, you have to actually pay the California state income tax ahead of time." Uncle Sam will want his cut as well, and if the prize is big enough, it could even bump you into a higher federal tax bracket, further chipping away at your win.

While it's not news that people pay taxes on winnings, there are a couple of reasons it can be more jarring on The Price Is Right. You aren't guaranteed to be a contestant–you're sitting in the audience one minute, and then the next, you're playing for the showcase. Plus, the show awards trips and products that you may not be interested in. That $5,000 BBQ? You don't need it, and might not pay as much for it on the open market if you did—but you're still on the hook for taxes on the full retail value.

Schwartz's car was shipped from Los Angeles to a dealer near her home in Reno, Nevada. Before she could claim it, she had to pay $2,500 in taxes. Luckily, she had won $1,200 in cash playing the show's Plinko game and also had some money in savings – but not all contestants have the resources to even collect their winnings. "I think a lot of people don't understand what they're getting themselves into. They're just like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to win a bunch of stuff,' and then they're going to have to forfeit their prizes because they can't afford to pay the taxes on them," she said. Yahoo! Shine could not reach the program for comment.

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Another former winner explained on Aurora's Blog that if you win a car, you'll get a call to retrieve it sometime during the 90-day period after your show airs. You only have 10 days to pick it up, and the dealer could be as far as 150 miles from your home address. If you can't arrange the paperwork, tax payment, and pick up within that time, you will forfeit your booty.

As for Schwartz's other prizes, the pool table and shuffle board table were worth an estimated $14,000, but Schwartz sold them for $4,500 on Craigslist because they were too big to fit into her small apartment. "I took a bite on that one," she said. Because the game show will only deliver to the winner's home address, if a prize (say, the ever-popular bedroom set) is too large, the winner will have to pay for shipping to an alternate location. Schwartz was fortunate that the vendor agreed to store the items for the couple of months it took her to unload them.

Wondering why Schwartz and other contestants don't take the cash value instead of the prizes? "There is no cash value option," explained Aurora's Blog. "They make it super clear in all of the paperwork – you take exactly what you won, or you take nothing."

And what about that trip to sunny Acapulco? The tickets are nontransferable, so there is no way to sell it. You had better just kick back and enjoy the beach ... after springing for the sales and income taxes, of course.

Schwartz says she's a long-time fan of the show and would be happy to be a contestant again. She adds she was fortunate to win a small car and other fairly high-quality, relatively salable items. "If I had won the other showcase, it would have been trips, a refrigerator, and a stove," she told Yahoo! Shine. Ultimately, she invested the money she earned from selling her winnings into a food truck business called the Souper Wagon. Even contestants who wind up winning cash prizes don't always benefit though, thanks to their own personal issues. According to ABC, one winner even turned down an actual cash prize of $10,000 since he didn't want to split it with his ex-wife.

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