A sudden windfall is a boon, giving you a quick financial boost you may not have expected. However, figuring out what to do with a large sum of money that arrives quickly isn’t always easy. There are numerous potential pathways, and figuring out which is best may be tricky. If you’re wondering what you should do with a sudden large sum of money, here are some options that are worth considering.
Stop and Breathe Before Spending a Dime
Before you do anything else, pause for a moment and breathe. A sudden windfall may come from an emotionally challenging situation, such as the death of a loved one that resulted in an inheritance, a lawsuit award or settlement after a traumatic event, or selling a business you molded over the course of years. In any of those cases, what you’re feeling now may not align with your state once the dust settles.
Since that’s the case, you want to stop and breathe before spending any of the money. That can prevent you from making emotional decisions, allowing you to wait until you can think logically about what to do with the windfall.
Speak with a Tax Professional
Another critical initial step after receiving a large sum of money is to speak with a tax professional. Depending on the source of the cash, the total amount, and other details, there could be tax implications that you need to prepare to navigate. If you don’t find out about them now, there’s a chance that you’ll spend money you should have held back for an upcoming tax payment.
Usually, a single appointment with a tax professional can ensure you understand what the windfall means from a tax perspective. Additionally, they can discuss the potential implications of using the money for specific purposes, allowing you to learn more about how decisions may impact your tax liability.
Create or Boost Your Emergency Fund
If you either don’t have an emergency fund or the one you have isn’t large enough to cover at least three months of living expenses, consider using the money to boost your emergency fund. That gives you a critical financial safety net, ensuring that an unexpected financial hardship doesn’t derail your life.
You may even want to go as far as six months of living expenses. Again, it’s a buffer against the unknown, allowing you to have a resource you can tap down the line should the need arise.
Pay Off High-Interest Debt
If you already have a solid emergency fund, consider making high-interest debt your primary target. Along with costing you money, carrying large quantities of high-interest debt – usually in the form of credit cards – can harm your credit score.
By paying it down as much as possible, you reduce a financial burden while improving your credit report. That makes it a win-win, particularly if you have financial goals that often come with new debt, such as buying a home.
Bolster Your Retirement Savings
Another smart step to take is to bolster your retirement savings if you don’t have much set aside. Even if you have access to a 401(k) at work, you can typically open an IRA. With an IRA, you can send some of the windfall – up to the annual contribution limit – to that account. Then, you’re going the extra mile to secure your financial future.
Just make sure to research contribution limits or speak with a retirement professional who can give you those details. That way, you can maximize your savings while doing things correctly.
Make a Down Payment on a Home
If you’ve dreamed of home ownership and can reasonably afford a mortgage, but don’t have a down payment available, consider using some of that sudden large sum of money for a substantial down payment. As long as you put at least 20 percent down, you can avoid PMI. By going beyond that, you reduce your monthly payment and increase the amount of equity, both of which work in your favor.
Just make sure you don’t purchase more house than you can afford, both from a monthly payment and from a tax and maintenance perspective. The windfall may make more expensive homes seem more plausible on the surface. However, you need to keep the long-term picture in mind, particularly if the money you’ve recently acquired won’t necessarily last long.
Pay Off Your House
If you already have a home, paying off the mortgage is a smart move. It eliminates a major monthly payment from your budget while also allowing you to avoid further interest. Plus, owning your home outright can make it easier to sell later, should the need arise.
Even if you can’t pay off your house, paying down the debt is a good idea. It lets you reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay and shorten the total repayment period, allowing you to clear the mortgage faster than you would otherwise. Plus, if you need to reduce the monthly payment, you could do so with a refinance, something that’s easier to pull off when the amount you owe is far below the fair market value.
Open a Brokerage Account and Invest
For those who tackled everything above and still have money left (or don’t want to buy a home), opening a brokerage account and investing could be a wise decision. It creates opportunities for your money to grow without the restrictions associated with retirement accounts.
In some cases, you can tap a financial adviser through your bank or credit union, allowing you to get advice for free. Otherwise, consider finding one on your own, opting for a non-commission adviser whenever possible.
Then, focus on assets that come with low fees and built-in diversification. Both mutual funds and ETFs can be great starting points. Look for ones that align with your goals and risk tolerance, allowing you to reduce risk while ensuring your money has a chance to grow.
Have a Little Bit of Fun
When you end up with a sudden large sum of money, give yourself permission to have a little bit of fun. Just make sure you do it responsibly. For example, depending on the amount of money, you might want to designate 1 to 10 percent as cash you can spend on something you’d enjoy.
Usually, it’s best to look at your broader financial picture first. Then, you can determine what percentage is reasonable based on your other goals and how committing to the points above would benefit you. That allows you to choose an amount that won’t feel irresponsible, all while giving you a bit of freedom.
Do you have any other tips that can help someone with a sudden large sum of money make wise financial choices? Have you ever ended up with a windfall and want to share your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.