Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Another Oprah Giveaway

Oprah_6Long time readers of this blog know that perhaps my favorite class in the basic income tax course is when I get to show the hilarious clip from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on the tax consequences of Oprah Winfrey's gift of new cars to her studio audience. Oprah is at it again -- she had another giveaway on her October 30 show:

Every member of Oprah's audience is going home with $1,000 and a Sony DVD Handycam…but there's a catch. Oprah is challenging more than 300 audience members to donate their money to a charitable cause... The audience members can't spend their money on family members, and they'll be videotaping their stories for a future show. They only have one week to come up with a plan for their money!

The tax consequences seem straighforward -- income to each recipient ($1,000, plus fmv of the Handycam), along with a $1,000 charitable deduction to the extent the $1,000 is given to a qualifying charitable organization.  Comments are open (as always).  (Hat tip:  Bryan Camp.)

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I was thinking along the same lines as Mary and Dan. Good analysis. Interesting that my first reaction was to think of high wealth individuals that will phase out of the itemized deduction due to income limitations. I've been working in public accounting too long....

Posted by: Paul | Nov 1, 2006 5:14:25 AM

The first dan beat me to it, but my first reaction was to wonder how many of Oprah's guests will give the money to a recipient that won't qualify the gift for the charitable deduction. My second was to wonder how many are standard deduction filers that won't benefit from the charitable deduction.

Posted by: Another Dan | Oct 31, 2006 11:36:21 AM

I wouldn't say that the tax consequences are as straightforward as you assert above.

Even if the $1,000 is given to a "qualifying charitable organization," the resulting charitable deduction won't help those Oprah viewers whose other itemized deductions amount to a total which is less than the (standard deduction - $1,000).

Moreover, even for those who itemize deductions, the $1,000 deduction would increase AGI and might cause a variety of other tax consequences due to the higher AGI.

A household that doesn't itemize but DOES qualify for Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would face a very high marginal tax rate on the $1,000 of additional income, even if they donate the entire amount to charity. If they live in one of the states that has its own income tax and EITC, the implicit marginal tax rate on that thousand dollars could be almost 50% if they are in the phaseout range of EITC.

And don't forget the potential implications of the $1,000 increase in AGI for a variety of means-tested programs, e.g., food stamps, home heating aid, and Medicaid.

Posted by: Mary | Oct 31, 2006 10:30:19 AM

A film of me making a charitable contribution would be quite dull--me, sitting at a desk, writing a check, putting it in an envelope, and then digging around for a stamp.

Given the requirement that the good works be filmed (and, one assumes, the lack of tax counsel for audience members), I wonder if many of the audience members won't be tempted to give money to individuals, or to otherwise use it in ways that won't meet the requirements for the deduction.

Incidentally, for more information on the giveaway, see

it turns out they get $1000 debit cards from the Bank of America--which also raises an eyebrow, given Willis' article about BOA and its private foundation in today's Tax Notes Today

Posted by: dan | Oct 31, 2006 7:44:55 AM

I admire Oprah’s generosity, but she wasn’t the first one to come up with the idea. To read about where she got the idea or to read more gossip between nonprofit fundraising stories in the news… visit the website:

Posted by: a fundraiser | Oct 31, 2006 4:46:01 AM