Matt Knight

Matt Knight

Matt Knight

It’s fun to dream right? You hit up your local store with the big green New Jersey Lottery machine and drop a few bucks in the hopes that you’ll wake up tomorrow morning with a Mega Millions ticket worth near ONE BILLION DOLLARS (jackpot as of Friday Jan 6th is at $940M.)

As your ticket prints, you get thoughts of how you’ll spend your first million dollars and how the phone call will sound when you tell your boss that you’re quitting your job. But before you purchase a gold plated Ferrari, there are some very important steps that you have to take to ensure that you (and your future generations) be living on Easy Street for the rest of your life.

However – from the moment that you claim that prize, you will be contacted by scavengers who want a share of those winnings. If you didn’t have smart money management before, you could easily turn out to be your own worst enemy by quickly blowing the entire jackpot. Let’s say you buck the odds and beat the 1 in 3,000,000+ chance of winning the jackpot. Before you do ANYTHING is sign the back of the ticket. A lottery ticket is a bearer instrument, meaning that whoever signs the ticket and presents a photo ID can claim the prize. So if you haven’t signed the ticket and it blows out of your hand while you are waiting for a bus, or if you show it to a buddy in a bar and accidentally leave it on the counter, you’ve lost the loot.

Below, find some steps to help you steer clear of additional risks according to

  • 1. Remain anonymous if state rules permit it. (New Jersey allows this)

    Once people know you’re rich overnight, you’ll get requests for handouts from EVERYONE. Charities to long-lost friends and relatives–not to mention all the financial “experts” who will be vying for your business. So check state rules to see whether you can dodge them all by remaining anonymous.

  • 2. See a tax expert before you claim the win.

    With a lump sum payment, you must immediately pay tax on the entire amount. With an annuity, you are taxed only as you receive the payments. People who have trouble controlling their spending might prefer the discipline of receiving the money as an annuity. But this payout form has other drawbacks. You will want to compare the effective yield of the annuity with what you could earn by taking the money as a lump sum, paying the taxes and investing the proceeds. You have 60 days from the time you claim your lottery prize to weigh the pros and cons. During this time, ask advisors to crunch the numbers and help you decide which type of payment suits you best.

  • 3. Avoid sudden lifestyle changes.

    For the first six months, don’t do anything drastic like quitting your job, buying a home in Europe or trade up for a luxury car. Meanwhile, set aside a fixed amount for splurges. It’s only natural to want to celebrate your windfall.

    Save the big purchases for later. For example, you could rent a house in the neighborhood where you were thinking of moving, before you make any commitments. If you need a new car, buy a budget model for now.

  • 4. Pay off all your debts.

    There is no better investment than paying off debts. Whether it is credit card debt or a mortgage, your rate of return equals the interest rate on the loan. When you’ve paid down a dollar of debt, that’s a dollar you no longer owe. When you invest a dollar, you can’t be sure whether it will grow or shrink.

  • 5. Assemble a team of legal and financial advisers.

    Carefully vet each advisor before discussing your situation. Check broker records at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. For attorneys and insurance agents, see whether there have been any complaints filed with state disciplinary authorities.

  • 6. Invest prudently.

    Ask your advisors is to put together an investment portfolio divided half-and-half between equities (such as stocks) and fixed income (like bonds). Don’t fall for investments that you don’t understand or that sound too good to be true.

  • 7. Live within a budget.

    Especially if you’re not accustomed to having a lot of money, it may take some discipline to preserve your winnings and not go on a wild spending spree. One way to restrain yourself is to only spend income–not principal.

  • 8. Take steps to protect assets.

    People who are worth a lot of money need to guard against losing assets to creditors. They include everyone from disgruntled spouses and ex-spouses to people who win lawsuits against you. If people think you have deep pockets they may look for reasons to sue.

  • 9. Plan charitable gifts.

    You can offset one of the additional income from your lottery winnings (or the annuity payments if you take it that way) with an annual charitable deduction. For gifts to a public charity, donors are entitled to an income tax deduction for up to 50% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for cash contributions and up to 30% for donations of other appreciated assets held more than 12 months.

  • 10. Review your estate plan

    If your winnings have made you suddenly wealthy, this may be the first time that you need to plan for estate tax. So if you want to share some of your wealth with family and friends, this is the ideal time to do that.

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