Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Buzzkill: Fan may owe taxes on rewards for Jeter?s 3,000th

Christian Lopez might end up wishing he kept that baseball after all.

Lopez became more than a footnote to the spectacle of Derek Jeter getting his 3,000th hit on Saturday at Yankee Stadium by returning the milestone baseball to the New York Yankees shortstop rather than cash it in for a likely six-figure payday. That touched off a debate still raging among fans days later: Would you have given the ball back or sold it to the highest bidder for a payday that was rumored as high as $250,000?

For his gesture, Lopez was rewarded by the Yankees with luxury box tickets for the rest of the season (including postseason), along with signed baseballs, bats and jerseys from Jeter. In addition, Lopez received four premium front-row seats to last Sunday's Yankees-Rays game.

Nice haul, right? Sure, but with those generous gifts comes tax liability. As George Harrison�once sang for the Beatles, "Let me tell you how it will be; There's one for you, nineteen for me. 'Cause I'm the Taxman."

The IRS will likely consider Lopez's gratuities from the Yankees as income, and if so, he could end up having to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $13,000 in taxes, according to the New York Daily News. The New York Times, meanwhile, says the face value of the tickets to the remaining 32 regular-season games at Yankee Stadium are worth anywhere between $44,800 and $73,600. The paper's conservative estimate puts Lopez's tax bill at $14,000.

Lopez, however, seems unfazed by these revelations.

If the IRS comes calling, he says he'll pay those taxes:

"Worse comes to worse, I'll have to pay the taxes," he told the Daily News on Monday. "I'm not going to return the seats. I have a lot of family and friends who will help me out if need be.

"The IRS has a job to do, so I'm not going to hold it against them, but it would be cool if they helped me out a little on this."

It's unclear from the quote whether the "they" Lopez refers to means the IRS or the Yankees. The IRS could obviously help him out by considering the items he was rewarded as gifts, rather than income. Then he wouldn't owe as much in taxes.

But could Derek Jeter or the Yankees also step in and pay the taxes for Lopez? One tax expert the Daily News spoke to made that very suggestion.

What a buzzkill. Lopez expressed hope that his parents would help him out with whatever taxes he might owe. But they could rightfully point out that some of that memorabilia ? not to mention many of those tickets ? could be sold off to cover his expenses. (Lopez might have to do that anyway, telling reporters that he still owes more than $100,000 in student loans.)

Lopez being essentially punished for what so many saw as a good deed and selfless act makes for a troubling epilogue to a nice story.

But maybe there's still a happy ending to come.

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