Skip to Content

What is the cash payout option for Mega Millions?

The Mega Millions lottery is one of the two major multi-state lottery games in the United States, along with Powerball. Mega Millions drawings are held every Tuesday and Friday evening, offering massive jackpot prizes that can grow into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

When a winning ticket matches all six numbers drawn (five white balls and the Mega Ball), the holder of that ticket has a choice between two prize payment options: the annuity option or the cash option. The annuity option provides you with your share of the jackpot prize paid out in 30 graduated payments over 29 years. The cash option provides you with a one-time, lump-sum payment equal to the cash in the Mega Millions jackpot prize pool.

Annuity Option

If you choose the annuity option, your share of the Mega Millions jackpot is paid out to you in 30 graduated payments over 29 years. Your annual payment grows by 5% each year. Here’s how it works:

  • You receive your first annuity payment shortly after claiming your prize.
  • Your second payment is 5% larger than your first payment.
  • Your third payment is 5% larger than your second payment, and so on, with each payment growing by 5% annually for 29 years.
  • Your 30th and final payment comes 29 years after claiming your prize.

For example, if the Mega Millions jackpot is $1 billion and you win half of it, your annuity option prize would pay you $25 million in your first payment. Your second payment would be 5% larger ($26.25 million), your third payment 5% larger than that ($27.56 million), and so on until your 30th payment of $76.74 million 29 years later.

The advantage of the annuity option is that it provides you with your lottery winnings in a series of payments over nearly three decades. This allows you to receive a sizeable annual income from your lottery prize for the rest of your life. It also reduces the risk of wasting your entire jackpot quickly or falling victim to scams or fraudulent investments.

However, there are some drawbacks to the annuity option. First, it locks up your lottery winnings for 29 years instead of providing you with immediate access to the full amount. Second, your prize is not protected from inflation over the payment schedule. And third, if you pass away before receiving all your payments, your estate does not get the full amount.

Cash Option

If you elect the cash option for your Mega Millions jackpot prize, you will receive a one-time, lump-sum payment equal to the total cash available in the prize pool. Your payment will be made shortly after you claim your prize.

The cash value amount is determined by each state in the game, based on current interest rates. The cash value is typically between 50-70% of the larger annuity prize. So if the jackpot is $500 million annuity, the cash value might be $255 million.

Choosing the cash option has some advantages:

  • You get your full lottery winnings right away in one payment.
  • You have complete control over your prize money from the start.
  • You can invest the cash and potentially see greater returns than the 5% annual annuity growth rate.
  • You can avoid the headache of long-term payment tracking.

However, there are also some drawbacks to taking the cash option:

  • The lump sum is significantly less than the full annuity amount (typically 50-70%).
  • You could spend the money too fast or make unwise investments.
  • You have to pre-pay more taxes on your winnings up front.
  • You don’t have a guaranteed annual income from your lottery prize.

Factors to Consider

When choosing between the annuity and cash options, here are some important factors to keep in mind:

  • Your age – Older winners may prefer annuity to ensure steady income, while younger ones may want to invest the cash.
  • Your financial needs – Those with debt may want cash to pay it off immediately.
  • Your self-control – Winners prone to reckless spending may prefer annuity’s forced discipline.
  • Your investment experience – Those savvy with investments could opt for cash to try to generate bigger returns.
  • Tax implications – Annuity spreads taxes over time, while cash has higher initial tax burden.
  • Estate planning – Remaining annuity payments pass to heirs; cash can be tax-burdened.

It’s wise to consult experienced financial advisors to weigh your specific situation before making a decision. This includes tax attorneys, accountants, investment advisors, and estate planners familiar with large windfalls. Their guidance can help ensure you maximize your Mega Millions prize.

Odds of Winning

Your odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are incredibly slim at just 1 in 302.6 million. This makes matching all six numbers correctly an extremely rare occurrence. Here is a breakdown of the odds for each Mega Millions prize tier:

Prize Tier Odds of Winning
Match 5 white balls + Mega Ball 1 in 302.6 million
Match 5 white balls 1 in 12.6 million
Match 4 white balls + Mega Ball 1 in 931,001
Match 4 white balls 1 in 38,792
Match 3 white balls + Mega Ball 1 in 14,547
Match 3 white balls 1 in 606
Match 2 white balls + Mega Ball 1 in 702
Match 1 white ball + Mega Ball 1 in 251
Match Mega Ball 1 in 37

As you can see, matching all six numbers correctly is by far the hardest outcome to achieve. Even matching five white balls for a second tier prize is an extremely unlikely 1 in 12.6 million chance. The odds are stacked heavily in favor of no one winning the jackpot in a given drawing.

Recent Jackpots and Winners

Here is a look at the 10 biggest Mega Millions jackpots and winners from the last few years:

Jackpot Date Won Winning Location
$1.537 billion October 23, 2018 South Carolina
$656 million March 30, 2012 Illinois, Kansas, Maryland
$648 million December 17, 2013 California, Georgia
$543 million July 24, 2018 California
$536 million July 8, 2016 Indiana
$533 million March 30, 2018 New Jersey
$522 million June 7, 2019 California
$451 million January 5, 2018 Florida
$437 million January 1, 2019 New York
$425 million March 8, 2019 South Carolina

As you can see, Mega Millions has produced several enormous jackpots in the range of half a billion to over 1.5 billion dollars. Individual winners have claimed prizes upwards of $300 to $500 million before taxes.

Notably, some of the biggest Mega Millions jackpots have been won multiple times over by players in different states who happened to pick the same winning numbers independently. When the jackpot rolls over repeatedly without a winner, excitement builds until multiple ticket holders finally strike it big simultaneously.

Largest Cash Payouts

Here are the 5 largest Mega Millions jackpots to date that were paid out in cash lump sums:

Annuity Cash Payout Date Won
$1.537 billion $877.8 million October 23, 2018
$656 million $471 million March 30, 2012
$648 million $324 million December 17, 2013
$543 million $320.5 million July 24, 2018
$536 million $263 million July 8, 2016

These enormous cash payouts represent life-changing amounts of money. However, winners still face large tax burdens and other decisions in claiming their windfalls.

After federal and state taxes, cash payouts are reduced by 24-40% typically. Some winners have managed their prizes wisely, while others have fallen victim to excessive spending and unwise financial decisions.

Taxes on Winnings

For US citizens, lottery winnings are subject to both federal and state taxes. Here is how Mega Millions jackpots are taxed:

  • Federal tax: Highest income tax bracket, 37% as of 2023.
  • State tax: Varies by location, 0% in some states up to over 10% in others.
  • Both taxes apply to prize value immediately for the cash option.
  • Annuity option spreads taxes over each payment as received.
  • Federal tax withholding of 24% is required on prizes over $5,000.
  • State tax withholding varies based on location.

For example, a $300 million Mega Millions cash prize could face around $150 million in combined federal and state taxes, reducing the payout to around $150 million after-tax. Consult a tax professional to estimate your potential tax bill.

Claiming Your Prize

Here is the process for claiming your Mega Millions jackpot prize:

  1. Sign the back of your winning ticket immediately to establish ownership.
  2. Contact your state’s lottery office to schedule an appointment to claim your prize.
  3. You have 180-365 days (depending on jurisdiction) to claim, after which unclaimed prizes revert to the state.
  4. Complete a claim form and W-9 tax form at the lottery office when claiming.
  5. Decide between the annuity and cash options for payment.
  6. Wait 4-12 weeks for your first prize check to arrive.
  7. Consider assembling a team of experienced financial advisors before claiming.

Be sure to safeguard your winning ticket until you have claimed your prize. Some winners have tragically lost tickets before coming forward. Signing the ticket establishes your ownership in case it becomes lost or stolen.

Remaining anonymous can be done in some states to protect your identity. This avoids public attention but makes verifying your rightful ownership more difficult.

What to Do If You Win

Here are some recommendations if you find yourself the winner of a massive Mega Millions jackpot:

  • Remain calm – Don’t rush into any decisions.
  • Stay anonymous – Limit who you tell to protect yourself.
  • Assemble advisors – Accountants, lawyers, planners familiar with windfalls.
  • Pay off debt – Eliminate any liabilities you may have.
  • Set aside for taxes – Both state and federal taxes will be due.
  • Invest wisely – Park most of the money in conservative investments.
  • Give to charity – Donating some shows fiscal responsibility.
  • Make a budget – Create a plan for covering expenses big and small.
  • Help family and friends – Lend money, don’t give it. Beware handouts changing relationships.
  • Splurge a little – It’s OK to treat yourself, just don’t go overboard.

Avoid making any big lifestyle changes right away. Take time to carefully consider your options before making any major financial decisions. With good planning, your lottery winnings can provide long-term financial security for you and your family.

Scams to Avoid

Lottery winners can unfortunately become targets for scams, frauds, and people looking for handouts. Here are some common scams to watch out for:

  • Fake lotteries – Contacting you to claim phony winnings for an upfront “processing fee.”
  • Predatory lenders – Aggressive offers for unnecessary high-interest loans or lines of credit.
  • Shady investments – “Can’t miss” opportunities in speculative assets or businesses.
  • Newfound “friends” – Long-lost relatives and friends asking for substantial gifts.
  • Fraudulent advisors – Unqualified people posing as financial or legal experts.
  • Thieves and hackers – Looking to physically steal or digitally drain your winnings.

Protect yourself by limiting who you tell about your prize, performing due diligence on any offers or advisors, consulting your team of qualified experts, and being cautious with any sudden requests for money. Avoid falling prey to those looking to take advantage of your winnings.

Final Thoughts

Winning an enormous Mega Millions jackpot can provide incredible opportunities to you as a winner. However, proper planning and guidance are crucial to ensuring your windfall provides long-lasting positive impacts for you and your loved ones.

The choice between the annuity and cash options involves weighing factors like taxes, investment opportunities, and your own financial discipline. Claiming and protecting your prize are also critical steps once you become a winner.

While the odds of winning Mega Millions are incredibly long, the daydreams of sudden fortune will continue to attract players to chase the dream. Responsible management combined with some indulgences can help turn those Mega Millions winnings into a lifelong positive.