Taxman Takes the Winnings

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"Let me tell you how it will be,
There's one for you, 19 for me."
— "Taxman" by The Beatles

Congratulations! Through either winning a sweepstakes, the lottery, or an Unexpected Inheritance, you're suddenly rich! But, don't celebrate too soon; a man from the Intimidating Revenue Service will be along shortly to inform you that after federal taxes, state taxes, employment taxes, property taxes and miscellaneous additional fees, your winnings have dwindled down to nothing, heck you may even owe money.

Basically the government's equivalent to Cut a Slice, Take the Rest. This is almost exclusively an American trope, given the reputation the Internal Revenue Service has (justified or not) for coming up with any reason at all to seize large chunks of money from the suddenly-wealthy. This may be because it's a lot easier than reforming tax laws to make the long-term wealthy pay properly. The US is also fairly rare in that it's lottery jackpots are still taxed as regular income. Story-wise, this trope can be used to keep a character in Perpetual Poverty and maintain the status quo while giving them a small taste of the wealthy life. But of course, woe be to the character who already started spending large sums of their cash before they get the news that they can't keep most of it.

Truth in Television, though fiction likes to exaggerate it for comedic purposes. Somewhat exaggerate it, anyway.

See also A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted. A subtrope of Yank the Dog's Chain.


Examples

Comic Books
  • The Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! story "The Galleon Ghost" (Gold Key #2, June, 1970) dealt with the gang coming across a band of pirates in a Florida swamp. They are unmasked to be gypsies who were only trying to keep the gold they found a secret for fear that the IRS will take it. Fred assures them that the IRS will only take part of the gold, leaving the gypsies well off after all.
  • In one early Judge Dredd storyline, the Judges quell a riot by granting everyone involved a small sum of money - only to later take it away again (plus a bit of extra to cover expenses) in taxes.
  • In The Cowboy Captain of The Cutty Sark, an addendum story to The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Scrooge tells the story of how he nearly made it rich in his youth by selling a pair of purebred longhorn racing bulls to a sultan, only to lose his earnings to the local colonial goverment. Unusually, this was actually justified as the taxes were fines Scrooge was forced to pay for trashing half the city while pursuing his stolen bulls in a prototype car.
  • Another Don Rosa story, The Last King Of El Dorado, has this happen to Scrooge again. He discovers the treasure of El Dorado, in reality an ancient lake bed full of golden artifacts left behind by the tribe that served as inspiration for the legend of the Golden City, who used to dump the gold in their sacred lake as sacrifices for the gods. The plot starts with Scrooge coming across an old document of ownership for the area set up by a 16th-century bank, which gave legal ownership of the land and its content. After a rival chase with Flintheart Glomgold to the treasure, Scrooge finds the gold, only to be interupted by officials representing the goverment of Peru, who explains that though Scrooge is the technical owner of the property holding, no taxes had been paid on the land since the last holder died 300 years before, and the property was rescinded to the goverment a few decades after that. Like the previous story, a case of Reality Ensues.
  • An italian Donald Duck story has Donald and his cousin Gladstone and Fethry compete with each other to win the castle of a deceased relative. They are required to stay in the castle for the night, not knowing that its actually a Secret Test of Character - the relative wanted his heir to be like him; lazy and plagued by bad luck. Gladstone is lazy but has great luck, Donald has bad luck but is hardworking when he wants to be, so the inheritance goes to Fethry, who is just like him. He then finds out that his relative died with substantial debt, and even selling the castle wont be enough to pay all of it off. And unfortunately for Donald, he and Fethry had made a deal to share the inheritance if either of them won.

Film
  • In The Three Stooges short "Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb", Curly wins $50,000 in a radio sweepstakes, and the stooges think they have it made. That is until they find out that after taxes Curly is only left with $4.85, leaving them unable to pay for the damages to the expensive hotel they're living in. This scenario was repeated in "A Missed Fortune", a remake featuring Shemp.
    • In "Three Pests in a Mess" a trio of con artists (not the Stooges) learn of a man (also not one of the Stooges) who won $100,000 in a contest. They later learn that after paying his income taxes he had only $12 left.
    • In "An Ache in Every Stake" another con artist sells the boys the rights to a "lost mine" loaded with "a hundred thousand tons of pure gold worth $35 an ounce." Curly determines that after taxes said gold is worth "a dollar and a half."
  • Variation: Due to the events of the film Uncovered, the heroine Julia ends up with ownership of an old Spanish estate. The banker then informs her that she has also ended up with the mountain of debts attached to it and she promptly has to sell the whole thing off. Her boyfriend remarks:
    Domenec: Easy come. Easy go.
  • In between the first and second National Treasure movies, this happens to Riley Poole and at the beginning of the second film, his Ferrari is impounded by the IRS while he is signing copies of his book. As thanks for the team finding Cíbola and looking something up for him in the eponymous President's Book, the President pardons the debt... and Riley promptly puts the Ferrari in the wrong gear and backs it into a parked car.
    Riley Poole: [to Ben] Do you know what the taxes are on 5 million dollars? 6 million dollars.
  • In The Shawshank Redemption, Byron Hadley, the sadistic captain of the prison guard, receives an inheritance of $35,000, but he complains about taxes coming to take most of it away, even if he decides to buy something with it. The main character, Andy Dufresne, overhears him and offers to guide him through a financial loophole to allow him to keep the whole sum.
    Hadley: Dumb shit, what do you think the government's gonna do to me? Take a big wet bite out of my ass is what!
  • In "Champagne for Caeser" Ronald Colman is on the verge of bankrupting a soap company through their game show and is being shadowed by two sinister men in dark suits. Since the company president has already tried to sabotage him he's naturally paranoid about them. Finally he confronts them and finds out they are from the IRS. When he asks how much he'll owe, one says "Let's just say you're in the battleship class."
  • A variation in the Soviet-Italian film Unbelievable Adventures Of Italians In Russia, in which a group of Italians are chasing a treasure hidden in Leningrad by the grandmother of one of the protagonists (who emigrated from Russia during the Communist Revolution). They are soon joined by Andrei, a man, who claims to be a tour guide. In fact, he's an undercover cop, who seems to be aware of what they're looking for. At the end, the treasure is found, and the Soviet police is closing in on the Italians. They are finally cornered. Andrei reveals himself and explains that, by Soviet law, all treasure found in the USSR belongs to the state, but the Italians get a finder's fee equal to 25% of the treasure's worth. Thus, the Soviet state ends up taking a 75% "tax" on their discovery.

Literature
  • In The Accidental Spaceship, Vernon and Junior Smith are accidentally delivered a spaceship due to a clerical error. Before they can determine where it came from or what to do with it, a tax collector arrives demanding $1,000,000 in taxes, leading them to flee in the spaceship.
  • Pomperipossa in the World Of Money is a satirical short story lampooning the similar tendency of the Swedish tax laws of the time. It was written by the famous children author Astrid Lindgren when she found that her tax rate in 1976 was actually 102%.

Live-Action TV
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Man in the Bottle". The Castles' second wish is for a million dollars in cash. After they give away some of the money, an IRS agent shows up and gives them a bill for the taxes (Federal and state) they owe on it. This leaves them with only five dollars.
  • Emergency! had one episode where a wealthy guy left John and Roy a fortune after they rescued him. But he asked that some go to someone else, and gets some, and after taxes get taken out, the paramedics have a few bucks left and that's it.
  • The 1993 remake of Route66 starts the plot like this. Nick's estranged father dies and leaves him everything; after inheritance taxes and lawyer fees he actually owes a little money, leaving him with nothing except his dad's classic Corvette.
  • In many American game shows, contestants that win any prizes (money, a car, a vacation, etc) will have to pay taxes for it since the prizes are considered to be taxable under U.S. laws. Contestants usually sign a form before the show acknowledging the possible taxes. Sometimes, a person who wins a prize can opt to take the monetary equivalent instead and use some of it to pay off the taxes so that they can walk away with at least something.
    • This is the dark side of talk shows that randomly give away prizes to the audience. Most audience members don't realize that they owe taxes on anything they get on the show. So, when Oprah gave out cars to all audience members of her show as a publicity stunt, most ended up selling the cars or having to pay taxes on them. The savvy ones refused the cars. This is because Oprah filed the cars on her tax return as "prizes", meaning the recipients are the ones who have to pay the taxes on them. When asked why she didn't file them as "gifts" (since the show makes it seem as if they are), she pointed out that she shouldn't have to pay taxes for the cars on top of giving them away. The problem is, she didn't actually buy the cars. They were donated by the manufacturer specifically to be given away. Thus, Oprah gets free publicity and a tax write-off.
  • Lottery! has an IRS rep as one of the main characters of the series to ensure the taxes for all lottery winnings are accounted for. However, he only takes a strict portion and no one really argues with him. In fact, a group of people who were bilked by a con man and then got lottery winnings got the better of the crook by making sure he hears the tax bill for the winnings out of context, thinking it is a competitive bid, and tricking him into topping it.
  • One short-lived sci-fi show the protagonist won the $1 billion lottery only to find out that the government had a 101% tax on extreme winnings so he actually ended up owing THEM $10 million.

Music
  • The Beatles' song "Taxman" from Revolver is a scathing critique on taxes. Ironically in the UK winnings from the lottery, gambling or a game show are tax free anyway.
  • Serge Gainsbourg once protested against taxes by burning a money bill live on the air during a TV interview. He felt he would rather burn this high amount of money than give it away to the tax institute.
  • In Peter Schickele's A Cappella cantata Go for Broke, an IRS agent shows up to claim much of John Q. Public's lottery winnings, followed by state and city taxmen singing in counterpoint.

Tabletop Games
  • In Monopoly, it's possible on the same move to receive £200 by passing 'Go' and then land on 'Income Tax - pay £200'.

Theater
  • In In the Heights, in the song "$96,000", where it's been announced that someone won the lottery, and everyone is fantasizing about what they'd do with the money, Usnavi points out "You'll have a knapsack full of jack after taxes".

Web Original
  • In Le Donjon de Naheulbeuk, the 8000 GP reward the team won after two difficult seasons is drastically cut short in the season finale. First, the lvl 8 warrior who briefly helped them during the adventure (though they never asked her in the first place) come claims her 3000 GP mercenary payment. Then the "Dungeons Fund" claims them the mandatory 25% taxe, and so does the League of Thieves and Assassins, and they ends up with only 1000 GP.

Western Animation
  • At the end of the Barney Bear cartoon "Heir Bear", the taxman comes to take "Uncle Sam's share" from the treasure Barney had just uncovered. He takes a coin... for Barney to keep while he collects the rest.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "The Wabbit Who Came to Supper", Elmer Fudd expects to inherit $3 Million from his Uncle Louie. But when Louie dies, Elmer has to pay an Inheritance Tax, State Tax, County Tax, Defense Tax, Special Tax, Property Tax and a ridiculous Attorney Fee...leaving him owing the government $1.98. This makes this a Shaggy Dog Story as he was forced to take care of Bugs Bunny or lose the inheritance and, like a Tom and Jerry cartoon years later, Elmer stood to lose this if anything came to harm to the rabbit and Bugs took advantage of it.
    Bugs Bunny: You don't get da dough, do ya, butterball?
  • An episode of The Jetsons has Jane and George making it big on betting in races (using a pair of glasses that can see a few minutes into the future) and running away from a pair of men that they think belongs to The Mafia... only to find out that the men belongs to the Intergalactic Revenue Service and that the government's cut of their winnings leaves them with only one (space) dollar.
  • This was part of King Barlow's posthumous revenge against The Joker in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Millions". Barlow left the Joker a fortune, but most of the money was fake. He figured that the Joker would quickly blow through the real money, and then the government would come for the taxes, and he'd either go to jail for tax evasion or be forced to admit that he got conned by a dead man.
  • In the TaleSpin "The Balooest of the Blue Bloods", Baloo stands to inherit a ton of money from a distant relative, but he has to survive a night in a haunted, cursed house. After he survives the night, all the money is lost due to the "real family curse" - decades of unpaid land taxes.
  • In The Simpsons Homer wins the lottery but for plot relevant reasons has Barney turn in the ticket for the winnings. Barney gets a Giant Novelty Check, and the IRS guys get an even bigger Giant Novelty Check for their portion. Unusual for this trope, the amount they're shown to take wasnt THAT big, about 20% of the winnings, but the trope is still played straight for the joke.
    • "The Trouble With Trillions", set on Tax Day, has The Sea Captain stuffing the tax envelope full of jewels and gold from a small treasure chest, remarking that he wonders why he bothers plundering at all.
  • This turned out to be the motive behind one of the Monster of the Week schemes on Scooby-Doo. The perpetrators had discovered a sunken treasure, and were trying to smuggle it out without declaring it, because if they did Uncle Sam would come in and take more than half of it.
  • In Phineas and Ferb, season 4, "Druselsteinoween", when Doofenshmirtz inherits a Drusselsteinian castle from his great aunt, he enlists Perry to help him find a large, hidden treasure that his Great Aunt has placed somewhere within the castle. After they find the treasure, in the form of bags of money, various local officials comes to his castle and makes Doofenshmirtz pay a bunch of fees for owning a castle. He gives each of the officials a bag of money which leaves him penniless.
  • The Disneyland television show "The Goofy Success Story" has Goofy receiving a paycheck for appearing in his first movie, only for several men to collect money for taxes until Goofy has to pay them.
  • The Heckle and Jeckle cartoon "Pirate's Gold" has the two birds invading a pirate ship and making off with his treasure. A mousy little man who turned up frequently shows up at the end and identifies himself as a tax collector. He glomps all but one coin ("This is yours...after taxes.")
    Heckle: (to us) Ya can't escape it. Even in a cartoon!
  • South Park: Cartman inherited one million dollars in one episode and a good part of it was taken by tax collectors. The rest is taken as damage settlement for the Mc Cormics due to Kenny dying at Cartmans amusement park.
  • Jem: Roxy once won one million dollars thanks to a lottery ticket she found. She lost half to the IRS.
  • Paramount's Modern Madcap character Jeepers and Creepers in "Busy Buddies" had Creepers trying to win some money in a prize fight contest so he can pay his IRS debt. He wins and pays it off, but now he still owes for the money he just won.
  • Zig-zag: in The Hair Bear Bunch episode "Ark Lark," the bears and the other zoo inhabitants are holed up in a resort island hotel room. They enter Stripes the Zebra in a horse race held on the resort (using shoe polish to disguise him as a horse) and win the $50,000 cash prize—which is immediately seized by the hotel manager for the royal suite, room service and damages.
  • In Wakko's Wish, the corrupt Baron Von Plotz overhears the town of Acme Falls celebrating in song after Wakko returns from a yearlong journey for riches with a ha'penny (apparently a lot of money in their country). He quickly confronts Wakko in town and invents a series of phony taxes, including an "insulting the king" tax after Wakko calls the king a jerk, to take Wakko's ha'penny.
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