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What to Do If You Win the Lottery

By David Quilty

winning lottery ticket jeansI have admitted it before and I will admit it again – occasionally, I play the lottery. Not with any real expectation of winning, of course, but just for the fun of it and the “what if” tease that comes when some of my numbers pop up.

But even though we all dream of winning the lottery, not too many of us are prepared to handle what comes next. In fact, your lucky day could turn into your unlucky day if you’re not careful.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most important things you can do to avoid becoming a loser after winning.

Before Claiming Your Prize

Laying a good foundation is key to making the most of your good fortune. Before you rush out to claim your winnings, address the following items first:

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1. Protect That Ticket and Take Your Time
First of all, protect your winning lottery ticket. Make paper copies, store digital copies, invest in a home safe or take the ticket to the bank to store it in a safe deposit box.

Once you have your ticket secured, take your time to contact the lottery authorities. This is for several reasons, but primarily to allow the media hoopla of a big winner to die down and to give yourself time to breathe and plan for your soon-to-be new life. Most lotteries give winners up to 180 or 365 days to claim their prize, so taking a week off before claiming yours can do a lot for your mental state.

2. Don’t Quit Your Job Just Yet
It’s what you have always dreamed of: quitting your job to retire to the islands with a cold tropical drink, right? But don’t make that decision too fast. You have financial planning to address and you want to be sure you didn’t mistake the numbers or the date on your “winning” lottery ticket.

Just remember to keep your good fortune quiet at work too. A silent smile is all you need. Otherwise, word could get out before you’re ready and your boss may start looking for someone to replace you.

3. Hire Professionals
You probably aren’t a tax attorney, a family planning attorney, or a licensed accountant. When you win a lottery jackpot, you need to surround yourself with professionals. Hire yourself a good attorney who is well-versed in financial issues, as well as a solid fee-based financial advisor and a CPA.

You are going to need them to help you make the best decisions for your future. Moreover, if you feel uncomfortable about any advice you receive, get a second opinion. You can afford it.

4. Change Your Address and Go Unlisted
Once word gets out that you’ve won millions, you are going to hear from a lot of people with their hands out. Charities, causes, friends, long-lost family members, work acquaintances, investment advisors, you name it – you will hear from them all.

Before claiming your money, change your phone number to a new, unlisted one and get a post office box for your mail. This will make it harder for some of these people to find you.

lottery balls cash

When Claiming Your Prize

You can receive your lottery winnings either as a “lump-sum” or as an annual payment spread out over 20 to 30 years. Lottery players used to have to choose between lump sum or long-term payments before paying for their ticket, but a law in 1998 changed it so you can select after you win. There are pros and cons to both choices, so consider each option carefully.

Taking the Lump Sum Payment

When you take a lump sum payout, you won’t actually receive the full jackpot amount. The advertised winning jackpot amount is based on the lottery paying you through an annuity over 20 or 30 years and not all at once.

So when you take the lump sum, they pay you the current cash value of the jackpot, which is much less than each annual payment added up. More often than not, this reduced amount equals about half of whatever the winning jackpot amount was. But that doesn’t mean the lump sum payment shortchanges you.

There are other significant pros and cons as well:

Advantages

  • The money could be worth a lot more than the initial payout if prudently invested.
  • Winnings are taxed at current tax rates, which could be higher in the future.
  • Older people are guaranteed to get their entire winnings via the lump sum.
  • No risk of unknown future variables affecting your payout. You’re guaranteed to at least receive the lump sum.

Disadvantages

  • Poor financial management of a lump sum payment, such as an overly aggressive investment portfolio or careless and outlandish spending, could leave you penniless.
  • As mentioned above, that $10 million jackpot lottery ends up being around $5 million in real money and only $3 million (or less) after taxes.
  • You give up a guaranteed income stream.

Taking the Long-Term Payout

When you take the long-term payout, you receive the full amount of the jackpot over a period of 20 to 30 years. Here are some of the most important advantages and disadvantages to taking it:

Advantages

  • Annual payments provide long-term cash flow.
  • An annual payment will likely land you in a lower marginal income tax bracket than the lump sum, so you may pay less in taxes over the payout term.
  • You can’t “blow through” your entire winnings at once.
  • You can better budget and maintain a certain standard of living with a guaranteed annual payment.

Disadvantages

  • You lose the opportunity to invest the lump sum and take advantage of compound interest.
  • The annual payout is not adjusted for inflation, which means it becomes slightly less valuable every year.
  • If you die before payments conclude, the remainder of your winnings may or may not pass to your heirs. This depends on the lottery and the state you won in.
  • If the lottery goes belly up, your payments might too.
  • You have limited access to winnings. For example, if an emergency or opportunity arises, you can’t access any more than your annual payment amount.

After Claiming Your Prize

OK, so you made the necessary arrangements before asking for your winnings and you decided how you want to be paid. Now what?

1. Talk to the People You Hired
If you hired the right people, they are there to help, so use them often. If you find that you don’t trust them, hire new people. This kind of wealth can be scary if you’re not used to it, so seek qualified help and use it to make informed decisions.

2. Pay Off Debt
Whether it’s leftover student loans, a second mortgage, credit cards, or auto loans, pay off the debt you’ve carried around for years.

That said, you may want to keep your primary mortgage as long as it has a low interest rate. This is because the more money you have, the higher tax bracket you’re often in, and the more important tax deductions become. Either way, get rid of all your high interest debt, and then consult with your professionals to determine what to do with the rest.

3. Start an Emergency Fund
Even millionaires run into financial problems, sometimes more so than the rest of us! Setting up a healthy-sized emergency fund is one of the smartest things you can do with your winnings. A good rule of thumb is to set aside enough to pay for six months of expenses.

4. Put Away Money for Retirement
Allocate a percentage of your winnings to retirement accounts, such as an annuity. You don’t want to have to go back to work at 80 after being a jackpot winner, do you?

5. Setup College Funds
Do you have kids or want to provide for someone else’s kids? Making tax-free gifts toward a love one’s education can be quite rewarding. One option you can look into is the 529 college savings plan.

6. Give to Those Less Fortunate
Whether it’s to a church, a charity, or just to a family member facing hard times, consider sharing some of your good fortune. Plus, when you give to a qualified charity, you get to deduct the donation on your taxes!

7. Learn to Say No
Everyone you know and everyone you have never met is going to ask you for money, for both good and bad reasons. You need to learn to say no to most of them until you decide how you want to spend and save your winnings. Otherwise, you could have nothing left before you know it.

This may be one of the hardest things you’ll have to do. Rest assured, some people will pressure, threaten, or otherwise try to manipulate you to get their way. An easy out can be to say you’ve agreed to discuss everything first with your spouse, or your parents, or your financial advisor. Pick one and use it if someone just won’t let up.

Final Word

Winning the lottery can be a dream come true, but only 1 in almost 200 million people actually win the Powerball lottery, for example. While those are some seriously stacked odds, the fact is that some people do eventually win and usually have no idea what to do afterwards.

If you’ve won the lottery or know someone who has, consider the tips above. You’ll be familiar with what to do should your dream come true.

If you’re looking to play the lottery, check out TheLotto.com, an easy way to buy lottery tickets online from around the world.

thelotter

David Quilty
David Quilty is a freelance writer living outside Santa Fe, NM. After burning out working in the entertainment field in Los Angeles for many years, David decided to strike out on his own and follow his passions for writing, web design, politics, and green living on a dirt road in rural New Mexico.

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  • http://www.marylandtechnology.info Jon

    I’d take the money up front too and then stop working and just manage my investments myself. However, I know alot of people (older relatives especially) that would rather have the lottery allocate the money to them over time. I think the driver is b/c they do not feel comfortable about their own money management and self-discipline. Financially speaking though, if you know what you are doing you are much better to take it up front.

    • Dugie

      take it then make it last lol

  • not given

    Guaranteed income and a lower tax bracket seems like the safer alternative.

    • RunecubeCom

      “Guaranteed” isn’t… With states that have seen massive budget short falls… Don’t you think that it is possible that if the Lotto starts losing money that they will shut it down? And you can’t be sure that there isn’t a clause in the payout that says something like “if it closes down, payments stop” And even if it doesn’t have that, if they stop making payments you might have to sue the state – and I know in Texas, you have to request permission to sue the state… They can say “no” (But never have yet. The intent is to get an advanced notice that you are going to sue them…)

      • http://www.budgetforwealth.com/ Long Pham

        When someone wins the lottery, they are given the choice between cash value and payments. If they take the cash value, that’s it. However, if they take the payments option, the cash value is placed in annuity for the winner.

        So the lottery losing money has nothing to do with previous winning drawings. By law, lottery winnings must be fully funded. Your argument is based on assumption and is incorrect.

        • Alpha Deus

          Although if the company that sold you the annuity goes belly up your stuffed

  • http://momequity.wordpress.com MomEquity

    Most lottery winners end up bankrupt. I like to fantasize about winning but don’t play (I know, it’s weird). The fact is, most people who win are serial lotto players, i.e. people who aren’t that great with money anyway. I love the advice in this column and hope that anyone who is lucky enough to win will heed it!

    • Yup

      Bullshit

    • dump lump

      I would like to know where you get this statistic from. I believe that this a false myth that has been propagated when lottery used to be below the amounts that they have today. Whenever someone states this, people do not question it. I would like to see some proof that statistically points out this fact. 10 or 13 people who have gone bankrupt in the past does not make this myth true. That is a selection bias.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SF5HSOCUWIB3QU4ULTJPTZIH3E Northeastern

    I’ve always thought of the address thing, I would definetly stay at a hotel short term until I find a new place. The lottery releases your name & people will quickly find you and come knocking on your door…or worse. I would want to hide from everyone and give myself time to relax, think clearly, and make a plan for the money. The hardest part is not going overboard with the spending and making your family understand that you have to be careful with the money in order to stay wealthy. Rather than give my immediate family big money, I would give them a little bit each year to help improve their lives without allowing them to throw it away and come asking for more. I would make sure they understand my money is my money, and I am not an atm. I would set myself a yearly budget and only increase it if my wealth increases. Also start relitively small on the house and move up after a few years if your money is not declining. People with a sudden influx of cash do not realize how expensive maintenance, repair, landscaping, property tax, etc is on a large home.

  • Pradavee

    This is great advice. I’ve always wondered how and what to do if I won the lottery or etc. I will pass this valuable information on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Penny-Warner/1591993908 Penny Warner

    Pay your taxes FIRST thing! Before you go paying bills and spending money. The lottery doesn’t take out enough, and if you win more than $250K you WILL end up paying more: usually 40 percent. I know this from experience, and I’m struggling to pay my tax back. So frustrating. I asked at the lottery office if that was all the tax I had to pay and they said yes, One year later I find out I owe about $145K more. Yikes. I’m still glad I won, and have spent, shared, and invested wisely.

    • Dugie54

      hi happy winner give me your good no’s 5-9-7-4-23-13 are theses good?

    • alpha deus

      A tax advisor would let you know this straight away..the main problem being that your winnings are taxes but those winnings are taxes at a set income, not your brand new tax levels which take the second bite of the cherry, you need to set aside another 10% for that second bite, often people never consider it or all the other tax implications then get that smack in the face with the IRS sledge hammer the next tax day.

  • http://www.budgetforwealth.com/ Long Pham

    All of these tips are great advice for winners of lotteries. A lot of people will probably have a difficult time adjusting to sudden wealth and the change of lifestyle it can bring. It’s best to surround yourself with a great financial planning team who can ensure you have income for the rest of your life and spend accordingly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Sinaru/100003603087739 Eric Sinaru

    everydays’ dream

  • Demetricclark41

    My name is demetric clark in i won the lottery but i still the ticket i don’t no what to do please help

  • Kate

    I like the idea of paying for the college/technical degrees of relatives. They present to you the degree they wish to obtain and you pay for it IF they achieve the grades you specify. Whoohoo power. If they present a business idea…much more complicated! I would have to love the business idea and want to own it, and I would be the majority owner as the banker, and that sounds like a lot of work.

  • Sylvia

    One important factor and concern was not mentioned, banking. What bank would hold that amount of money?

    • http://twitter.com/Evilpa Ann

      Really? That’s your question, did you read the article? That is why you hire a financial planner, a CPA and an attorney, meet with them and make a plan BEFORE claiming the money!

      • MB

        You can’t completely trust other people to handle your affairs. You have to know what they’re doing, too. So, it is a good question on her behalf.

        • Maine York

          that’s why you run your Team like a Government with checks and balances.. The financial Advisor watches the Accountant, the Accountant watches the Estate Lawyer and the Estate Lawyer watches the financial Advisor

      • Lisa

        And what if you don’t have the money to hire all those people until after you claim your winnings?

      • Jeffery Surratt

        I am 59 and know enough to limit how much you put in each bank account. I also know that the pros give bad advice everyday. If I ever won millions; i would go it alone. I have been living on less than $35,000 per year my entire life. It would not be a problem for me. I would not even buy a new corvette, there are plenty of good low mileage used ones for sale. I would build a nice house and live in comfort the rest of my life. I know how to say no, I raised 4 children and do not have a problem telling anyone NO!

    • Alpha Deus

      Answer being if your going to put the money away for a while then you spread it about, the reason for the specialists is to avoid sticking all your money in one bank and especially a single account because your only insured to $250k, so you might if the bank goes under which nowerdays is more likely then any time in the last 80 years you’d lose everything over that amount

    • close call

      CDARS CAN TAKE UP TO FIFTY MIL, YOUR SAFE. ONE BANK, ONE RATE
      ONE ACCOUNT.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003634556311 Kishmir Intuches

    This article is about as informative as the flight attendant’s ‘seat-belt demonstration.’ If you haven’t figured that out by the time you’re old enough to buy an airline ticket, there’s no hope for you. This article tells you nothing. A waste of time for writer, reader and advertiser.

  • NowhereinAZ

    Definitely check the fine print on your state’s lottery website. Had I not read AZ’s fine print, I would never have known that, while you have 180 days to claim the prize AT ALL in Arizona, you have only 60 days to claim the prize as a lump-sum payment. If you claim the ticket between days 61-180, you don’t have a choice–you’re getting annuity payments. Also, I wish somebody knowledgeable would talk about the need for security. Maybe I watch too many crime shows, but if I won half a billion dollars, I’m thinking I’d need to be guarded from kidnappers, etc., 24/7!

    • kittycreek

      Also, if considering the annuity; there was a special provision placed on the constructive receipt doctrine that might not apply to state taxes and there is always the chance that the provision could be reversed by an anti lottery congress. If they retro-acted it; you could owe taxes on your whole annuity. I would go ahead within a month or two, and get the lump sum and watch my spending…just in case.

  • http://howtowinthelotteryx.net/ LotteryWinner

    I firmly believe that your current financial mind will win-out after a lottery win. So many stories of broke people winning and then becoming broke again – because it’s what they know how to do!

    I can see the temptation in wanting to take most of the money and spend it, but people would be so much happier investing and giving yourself a monthly salary. Learn to live on that and you’d be set for life!

  • Quido

    Nowhere in this article did it say to sign the winning ticket, that I saw. That would be the first and very most important thing over and above anything else.

    • sthorn06

      Amen!

  • Cheryls place

    I’m going to win 368 million dollars! I say it everyday, having faith, believing and receiving in Jesus name, Amen!

    • Barry L. Rogers

      Yes!

    • ??????

      As I do

  • MaryTN

    For someone who does not have a financial team, where do you find one? Most winners are average people who really don’t have the personal connections to ask for referrals.

  • Salem

    Its better to give than to recieve.. So please don’t be greedy and selfish!

  • moneymoneymoney

    I won the UK’s Euromillions two years ago. It was £26m.
    I’m drunk tonight, and I’m going to talk about it.

    If you are a spiritual person, you’ll understand what I’m about to say…

    If you’re not happy and you wish for money to help you; you’ll be less happy with it.

    And so will everyone who you care about.

  • grateful

    I would first thank God

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