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Why do most lottery winners choose a lump sum instead of the annuity?

Winning the lottery is a dream come true for most people. The thought of receiving millions of dollars all at once is incredibly tempting. However, lottery winners actually have a choice between receiving their winnings in a lump sum payment upfront, or spread out over many years in an annuity. Interestingly, the vast majority of big jackpot winners opt for the lump sum payment instead of the annuity. In this article, we’ll explore the main reasons why lump sum payments are so much more popular than annuity payouts among lottery winners.


One of the biggest factors that leads most lottery winners to choose the lump sum is the tax implication. In the United States, lottery winnings are subject to both federal and state income taxes. The top marginal federal tax rate is currently 37%, while state tax rates vary widely from 0% to over 13%. When you choose the annuity option, you have to pay taxes on each installment payment. However, if you take the lump sum, you only pay taxes once. While the lump sum is subject to a higher tax rate, you get to invest and grow the money tax-deferred over time. This leads to much greater wealth in the long run compared to the annuity after accounting for taxes.

For example, let’s say you win a $100 million lottery jackpot and the lump sum cash value is $50 million after withholdings. If you take the lump sum you might pay $20 million in taxes upfront. That leaves you with $30 million free and clear to invest and compound tax-deferred. With the annuity, you may net $3 million per year after taxes on the installment payments. But you have to pay tax every year on that income, limiting your ability to invest and grow the money over the long term. The lump sum gives you more flexibility in managing taxes.

Investment Returns

By taking the lump sum, lottery winners have full control over investing the money. Savvy investors can earn significantly higher returns than the fixed annual payments in an annuity. While annuities provide stable income, they offer very little growth potential. The lump sum can be invested in stocks, bonds, real estate, businesses, and other assets that have much higher return potential. Even if you conservatively invest the lump sum, you’re likely to end up with higher lifetime wealth. The power of compounding higher investment returns in the lump sum outweighs the benefits of annuity payments.

Let’s again consider a lottery jackpot winner of $100 million. The annuity may pay out $5 million per year for 20 years. But by wisely investing the $50 million lump sum, the winner could reasonably expect to earn a 6% average annual return. At that rate, the lump sum would grow to over $165 million after 20 years! This is far greater than the $100 million total from the annuity. With savvy investing of the lump sum, the winner can end up with far more money in the long run.

Flexibility and Control

Taking the lump sum payment provides full flexibility and control over the funds compared to an annuity. With the lump sum, lottery winners can use the money however they want, whenever they want. It provides complete freedom in deciding when to spend, donate, or invest the funds. You can buy luxury items immediately, help family members in need, or pursue new ventures and opportunities as desired.

With an annuity, you are restricted to the fixed periodic payments determined by the lottery commission. This offers very little flexibility in using the money. Any large purchases or investments would need to be planned around the annuity schedule. The lump sum gives winners full control over their finances from the start. This freedom and flexibility is very valuable for most lottery winners.

Peace of Mind

Having the entire jackpot available right away provides peace of mind for many lottery winners. They know exactly how much money they have in the bank to work with. This makes financial planning much easier. It also provides security knowing the funds are there to use if and when needed. With an annuity, winners have to count on those future payments being made on schedule.

There is also some uncertainty around tax rates in the future. With the lump sum, you lock in taxes at the current rate. But for annuity payments, taxes could go up in the future and reduce the net payouts. The lump sum provides certainty over the full amount of lottery winnings to work with.

Fear of Missing Out

Humans have a natural fear of missing out, known as FOMO. With the lump sum, winners gain immediate access to the entire lottery jackpot amount. This allows them to take advantage of investment opportunities as they arise. It also lets them splurge on luxury purchases right away while they are excited about the life-changing win.

On the other hand, the annuity only provides access to a portion of the winnings each year. Winners may feel like they are missing out on fully enjoying their fortune. The urge to have the full amount right away leads many winners to opt for the lump sum. It satisfies the desire to immediately enjoy the complete jackpot.

Avoidance of Long-Term Commitment

Opting for the annuity means you are locked into a long-term payout schedule managed by the state lottery commission. This requires winners to commit for 20 or more years without full control over the funds. Most lottery winners want to take their money and run, using the funds however they please. The lump sum allows them to fully control their winnings from the start without any long-term obligations or commitments.

In addition to avoiding long-term commitment, any life changes can impact the benefit of annuity payments. For example, if a winner passes away earlier than expected, remaining annuity payments would go to their estate and beneficiaries. The lump sum ensures winners can fully utilize the funds during their lifetime.

Risk of Lottery Commission Default

While extremely unlikely, there is some non-zero risk of a lottery commission defaulting on future annuity payments. Taking the lump sum eliminates any such risk. Once winners have the lump sum payment securely in their own investment accounts, they don’t need to worry about relying on future annuity payments. Again, the chance of a lottery commission failing to make payments may be infinitesimally small. But for multi-million dollar lottery winners, even tiny risks are enough incentive to take the lump sum.

In rare cases, certain state budgets have faced deficits that raise slight concerns over their ability to maintain future annuity payments. Even the slightest hint of uncertainty can nudge winners toward the lump sum. There are no guarantees in life and winners want to ensure their fortunes are protected.

Get Money Working Right Away

Rather than delay investing their winnings, most lottery winners want to get their money working for them as soon as possible. By taking the lump sum, they can immediately put the funds in investments that start generating ongoing returns. Even modest investment returns can result in substantial long-term growth. Annuity payments delay this investing benefit for years.

The time value of money concept also comes into play. A dollar today is worth more than a dollar in the future after accounting for compounding. The lump sum maximizes the present value of the lottery winnings compared to future annuity installments. Winners want to capitalize on time value by getting access to their wealth immediately.


In summary, the vast majority of lottery winners opt for the lump sum payment over an annuity for several key reasons:

  • Taxes are lower compared to annuity payments
  • Higher investment returns and growth potential
  • Increased flexibility and control over funds
  • Peace of mind knowing the full amount is available
  • Fear of missing out and excitement to spend immediately
  • Avoid long-term commitment and restrictions
  • Eliminate risk of lottery commission default on payments
  • Get money working right away through investing

While annuities offer stable fixed payments, the lack of flexibility, growth, and control makes them unappealing to most winners. The lump sum maximizes how lottery winners can utilize their windfall. Taxes, investment returns, flexibility, and human behaviors all drive the preference for an immediate lump sum payment. For these reasons, financial advisors almost always recommend taking the lump sum, assuming winners have the discipline to manage the funds responsibly.

Payment Type Pros Cons
Lump Sum
  • Lower taxes
  • Higher investment returns
  • Full control and flexibility
  • Peace of mind
  • Requires discipline
  • May not properly manage
  • Stable fixed payments
  • Forced delayed spending
  • Higher taxes
  • Lower investment returns
  • Less flexibility
  • Long-term commitment

Key Factors in Deciding on Payment Type

For lottery winners who are unsure whether to take the lump sum or annuity, several factors often impact the decision:

Current vs Future Tax Rates

Evaluate whether you expect tax rates to rise or fall in the future. Rising rates favor the lump sum, while falling rates improve the annuity advantage.

Investment Skill and Discipline

Your ability to invest and manage a large lump sum responsibly. Those lacking investing discipline may prefer annuity payments.

Life Expectancy

Consider your lifespan and health status. A shorter life expectancy increases the value of lump sum. Longer expectancy improves annuity benefits.

Spending Habits

Big spenders and those wanting immediate access to funds tend to prefer the lump sum payout.

Opportunity Cost

Evaluate investment and spending opportunities. Missing out on opportunities waiting on annuity payments favors the lump sum.

Carefully weighing these factors helps determine the best payment type aligned with your needs, situation, and ability to manage lottery wealth.

Advisor Recommendations

Most financial planners and advisors strongly recommend taking the lump sum payment, assuming the winner is responsible and reasonable. With proper investing and planning, the lump sum provides significantly more wealth building potential. Combining lower taxes with higher investment returns over the long-term result in much greater total proceeds compared to the annuity.

That said, advisors recognize that a small portion of lottery winners may lack the discipline to properly manage a large lump sum. For those individuals, the forced saving mechanism and spending controls provided by an annuity may be beneficial. But for the majority, advisors suggest securing the lump sum and developing an investment and spending strategy optimized for your personal situation.

Strategies for Managing a Lump Sum

For lottery winners who decide on the lump sum, financial advisors generally recommend strategies such as:

  • Paying off any high interest debts
  • Establishing an emergency cash reserve
  • Maximizing tax-advantaged retirement accounts
  • Creating a diversified investment portfolio
  • Setting aside portions for philanthropy
  • Consulting tax strategists to minimize obligations
  • Living below your means and maintaining perspective
  • Using prudence and restraint on luxury purchases
  • Delaying major lifestyle changes until the money is properly managed

By following sound financial planning, lottery winners can prudently manage lump sum payouts to maximize their fortune and future security.

Lottery Annuities Can Still Have a Place

While lump sums are typically better for lottery winners, annuities are not without merit. Here are some situations where annuity payments may be beneficial:

  • Winners with exceptional health and longevity
  • Risk averse winners desiring guaranteed income
  • Those lacking investment experience or discipline
  • If fixed payments better align with budgeting needs
  • To limit excessive or frivolous spending
  • Emergency cash flow protection throughout retirement

Annuities provide longevity protection and guard against prematurely depleting the funds. For a minority of winners, this may outweigh the benefits of maximizing investment returns from a lump sum. Each situation is unique.

Hybrid Approach

Some winners take a hybrid approach, where they take a partial lump sum upfront. This provides immediate funds to improve lifestyle and invest. The remainder is taken as annuity payments over time to maintain stable fixed income.

This balanced strategy allows winners to enjoy a large portion of funds upfront, while still benefiting from the security of ongoing annuity payments. A hybrid approach combines advantages of both options.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key reasons most lottery winners choose lump sum payments:

  • Lower tax liability compared to annuity income
  • Higher investment returns and growth potential
  • Increased flexibility in utilizing the funds
  • Freedom to control money from the outset
  • Eliminates risk of lottery commission defaulting on payments
  • Satisfies desire to immediately enjoy winnings
  • Avoids long-term commitment and restrictions
  • Maximizes wealth for inheritance and estate planning

Annuities provide stable fixed payments. But for most lottery winners, the advantages of maximizing returns, flexibility, control and peace of mind make the lump sum far more appealing. Despite some discipline and investing risks, financial advisors almost unanimously recommend taking the upfront lump sum payment.