What to know when reporting your fantasy football winnings – or losses
When you sit down with your CPA to go over last year’s taxable income and they ask you how your fantasy football team did this year, they aren’t just looking to engage you in casual conversation. In fact, how well (or how poorly) you did over the last year might make a difference in the size of your tax bill.
According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA), about 56.8 million people spent their time and money on fantasy sports in 2015 – 73 percent of them were fantasy football players. And, on average, over a 12-month period, players spent about $465 on league-related costs, single-player challenge games and league-related material. In short – fantasy sports has become a serious business and, as with most business matters, you should be prepared to report your fantasy sports winnings (or losses) to the IRS on Form 1040.
Read Also: Are You Missing Out On Tax Incentives?
Fantasy Money Spends The Same As Real Money
Just because your football team is fantasy doesn’t mean your money is, and when real money is being exchanged, you have an obligation to report it on your tax forms. However, because the IRS has yet to identify proper treatment of fantasy sport income and losses, the jury is still out on the “proper” way to report these fantasy winnings/losses on tax returns. And, from a state perspective, while most departments of taxation are struggling to identify the proper treatment of these funds, a few have issued guidance focused on fantasy sports operators.
Not Just A Hobby?
How your fantasy sports activity is classified will affect how your income – or lack thereof – is reported. Specifically, taxpayers need to know whether or not the IRS considers their fantasy football activity to be gambling and whether “the activity is not engaged in for profit (i.e., a hobby activity, if it is not gambling, or casual gambling, if it is gambling) or if the activity rises to the level of being a trade or business.”
In the article, “How to report clients’ fantasy football winnings,” that appeared in the February edition of the Journal of Accountancy, David Baldwin, CPA/PFS and Donald J. Zidik, CPA, provided some excellent insight into the 4 primary types of activity your fantasy football pastime could be classified as. Below is a brief synopsis.
Ultimately, at this time, how your CPA will classify your fantasy football activity depends on your own facts and circumstances. While you may consider fantasy football to be a hobby, someone else may be using it has a significant source of income.
A hobby activity
For most people, fantasy football would be classified as a hobby – meaning that it does not receive the level of activity required to qualify as a trade or business. In this case, your reporting would be guided by hobby loss rules and reported on line 21 of your IRS Form 1040. Deductions are generally allowed only up to the amount of income you secured as a result of the activity and only if you itemize your deductions. Your expenses, which are reported as miscellaneous itemized deductions, are subject to the 2 percent-of-adjusted-gross-income (AGI) floor and disallowed for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. Your expenses would include your entrance fees for losing contests and other expenses you incurred as a result of the activity.
A nongambling activity – trade or business
Do you keep accurate books and records and conduct your fantasy football activity in a businesslike manner? Then it may qualify as a trade or business. Final judgment, however, is left to the IRS, which will determine if the activity contains elements of personal pleasure or recreation. If you do qualify for this classification though, your ordinary and necessary expenses could be deductible and your net income would be subject to self-employment tax. Your activity will be reported to the IRS on Schedule C.
Casual gambling activity
Would you consider your fantasy football gambling? If so, then you will need to refer to the usual rules governing gambling activities, which means that your entrance fees for losing contests should be reported as gambling losses and allowable only if you itemize your deductions. Different from hobby activity, your losses (to the extent of your winnings) are considered miscellaneous itemized deductions and are not subject to the 2 percent-of-AGI floor and, therefore, are not disallowed for AMT purposes and excess losses cannot be carried over to another year. Your winnings, on the other hand, will need to be reported as income – even if your losses exceed your winnings.
Professional gambling activity – trade or business
If you consider your fantasy football activity to be gambling, and you consider you level of involvement to be “full-time,” and as a means for producing income to sustain a livelihood, you could be considered a professional gambler in the grade or business of gambling. This means that your gambling losses can only be deducted to the extent of your gains and your losses in excess of your gains cannot be carried over to another year. That being said, ordinary and necessary business expenses you incur to engage in the gambling activity are deductible. You will need to report your winnings and losses on Form Schedule C.
By Wendy Shick, CPA, CFP (Mentor office)