The Mega Millions winner’s dilemma: Should you take the lump sum or annual payments?

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Oct. 23, 2018 / 8:01 PM GMT

By David K. Li

The next Mega Millions winner will have to answer this huge question: Do you trust yourself?

If one player matches all six numbers of Tuesday night’s record-setting draw, he or she will have to decide between a lump sum of nearly $905 million or receiving $1.6 billion in 30 payments.

The $905 million up-front figure represents today’s value of $1.6 billion, dripped over 29 years.

“Oh, you gotta pocket it right now!” Arkansas State University economics professor Philip Tew enthusiastically told NBC News. “Typically you see the market to return between 7 percent to 11 percent annually so you can invest and end up with much more than the value of $1.6 billion over 30 years.”

But since lottery winners are not always known for their sound financial wisdom, Chicago lawyer Andrew Stoltmann insisted that slow and steady is the way to go.

“One of the biggest mistakes winners make is taking the lump sum,” said Stoltmann, who practices securities law and has represented lottery winners who lost money on bad investments.

“The average person who wins the lottery simply doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to handle a life-altering sum of money.”

If Tuesday’s drawing yielded just one winner and that player took payments, that person would get an initial $24.08 million followed by $25.29 million one year later, according to lottery officials.

The annual payments keep going up by 5 percent, making the 10th check worth $37.36 million, the 20th good for $60.86 million and the final 30th worth $99.13 million.

“So if you take the yearly payments spread out over 20 to 30 years, you can handle all the initial mistakes that most winners make, learn from those mistakes, and still have most of the corpus left,” Stoltmann said.

And even Tew, with his enthusiastic money-up-front advice, said he wouldn’t disparage anyone protecting themselves from themselves. Taking three decades of guaranteed money, even if not fully maximized, can’t be a bad move, he said.

“I give financial literacy talks all the time and I tell people there’s a way to make really smart deals with credit cards — but if you know you can’t do that, then don’t get that credit card,” Tew said. “It’s a much more wise decision to save yourself from yourself.”

Maryland lottery spokeswoman Carole Genrty said, in 15 years on the job, she couldn’t recall even one big winner in her state ever taking an annuity instead of the lump sum.

“In my time, I’ve never seen it,” Gentry said. “I think it’s the whole excitement of the jackpot and the idea of you controlling your own money (immediately).”

Bernard Georges, a Bronx, New York, resident, said the lump sum-vs.-annuity choice is a no-brainer for him.

“Oh, definitely I’m taking lump sum. If you take the lump sum, you’ll get to invest it and make a lot more money,” Georges, 47, said, seconds after buying Mega Millions tickets in Midtown Manhattan on Tuesday, “I trust myself.”