Personal Finance

Here are five things to do now if you win big in Powerball or Mega Millions

Key Points
  • The next drawings are on Tuesday night for the $654 million Mega Millions jackpot, and Wednesday night for Powerball's $345 million haul.
  • If you win, experts recommend telling as few people as possible and assembling a team of experienced professionals to help handle your windfall.
  • You'll also need to figure out whether to take an immediate cash lump sum or spread your winnings over three decades.

Let the daydreaming continue.

After no one picked all the winning numbers in Saturday night's Powerball drawing, the jackpot has jumped to $345 million. Between that and Mega Millions' $654 million top prize, a whopping $999 million is waiting for winners in the next two drawings: Tuesday night for Mega Millions and Wednesday night for Powerball.

If you're lucky enough to hit the jackpot in either game, there are some things that experts recommend doing right off the bat to protect your windfall.

A customer purchases Powerball lottery tickets for a $700 million jackpot at a newsstand in New York City, August 23, 2017.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

1. Chill

While you might be eager to claim your winnings, experts say it's best not to rush over to lottery headquarters the day you discover you've become one of the wealthiest people in the country.

For both the Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots, winners get anywhere from three or six months to a year to claim their prize, depending on where the winning ticket was purchased.

Experts recommended taking a deep breath and using as much time as you need to prepare to claim your winnings. That should include assembling a team of experienced professionals: An attorney, financial planner, tax advisor and insurance agent.

Top things people would be excited about if they win big

Getting out of debt (credit cards, loans, etc.)8.6%
Paying off my house8.1%
Paying off my student loans1.7%
Buying a new home6.9%
Going on an extravagant trip7.3%
Saving/investing the money for the future21.2%
Quitting my job8.8%
Sharing my prize with others33.3%

Source: Source: T.D. Ameritrade

"The time between the day you win the lottery and the day you claim is your last period of normalcy," said Jason Kurland, a partner at Rivkin Radler, a law firm in Uniondale, New York.

2. Protect your ticket

The standard advice from experts is to sign the back of the winning ticket so that if you are separated from it, your signature can help ensure you still get the prize.

However, signing it could interfere with your ability to shield your identity from the public, depending on where you bought it. A handful of states states let you claim anonymously, while others require the winner's name to be announced. Still, others will allow a trust or other legal entity to claim the prize on your behalf, thereby keeping your name out of the public eye.

This illustrates why you should contact an experienced attorney before doing much of anything. And make sure you put the original winning ticket in a safe place.

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3. Keep quiet

Your first urge might be to share your exciting news with, well, the world. However, the fewer people who know, the better. This is the case even if you are able to claim your prize anonymously.

"Obviously it may be impossible to keep this from immediate family, but news like this travels quickly," said Kurland, who specializes in helping lottery winners. "Try to keep the circle of people who know as small as possible."

If you won't be able to dodge publicity due to state law, consider changing your phone number, or living somewhere else temporarily, to avoid media attention and sudden money requests from long-lost friends or relatives.

This is what you do if you win the lottery
This is what you do if you win the lottery

4. Weigh the payment options

Jackpot winners get to decide between taking an immediate lump sum or spreading out their winnings over three decades. Either way, the IRS will take 24 percent before the money reaches you.

For the $654 million Mega Millions jackpot, the cash option is $372 million. For the $345 million Powerball, it's $199 million.

The 24 percent federal tax withholding would reduce Mega Millions' cash option by about $89.3 million, to $282.7 million, and Powerball's by $47.8 million, to $151.2 million. You also should anticipate owing more to Uncle Sam at tax time.

Additionally, you'll pay state taxes on the money unless you live where lottery wins are untaxed. For states that do take a piece, the rate ranges from a high of 8.82 percent in New York to a low of 2.9 percent in North Dakota, according to lottery site

5. Take a deep breath

Before spending a dime, think about what your sudden wealth means. Not just financially, but emotionally.

Instead of giving in to the temptation to buy big-ticket items right off the bat, give yourself time to process the magnitude of your win.

This is often when winners begin to think about their legacy and what societal contributions they want to make. Some even set up their own charitable organizations.