We all hope to win the lottery but let’s face it: We have a better chance at becoming a nuclear physicist than winning the Mega Millions.
While we rarely obtain lump sums of money that total hundreds of millions, we do periodically receive windfall money. While the amount may pale in comparison to lottery winnings, windfall money can be anything including a bonus at work, tax refund or unexpected inheritance. Regardless of the source, this money provides the distinct opportunity to accelerate your progress towards multiple financial goals.
The first and most important step to take when determining the best use of your windfall money is to revisit your financial goals. Then, prioritize the goals based on which are more urgent or time sensitive. After you list the goals in order of importance, assign a percentage of the money to each goal.
For example, Andrea’s financial goals include eliminating her home equity loan, contributing towards her daughter’s wedding, and planning for retirement that is eight years away. While each of these goals is important, some are more pressing than others. Therefore, Andrea may review her financial situation and decide that since the wedding is coming within the next year that it takes precedence. Then, she may consider the fact that accelerating her debt repayment will allow her to contribute more towards retirement once the loan is paid off. And, since she will not carry this debt into retirement with her, she will not require as much income to cover her future monthly expenses.
After thoughtfully considering her goals, Andrea decides to use 60 percent of any windfall money for her daughter’s wedding, 25 percent towards the home equity loan, 10 percent towards retirement, and 5 percent as fun money to do whatever she wants.
In truth, there are multiple ways that Andrea could divide this money. The key is to develop a strategy before acquiring the money. Otherwise, the money will come and go without moving you closer to any of your goals.
When dealing with windfall money, it is also prudent to consider the potential tax consequences of your strategy. Therefore, depending on the size and source of your windfall money, it may be a good idea to consult your tax adviser before making any decisions.
For instance, a sizeable bonus may increase your tax liability. However, careful tax planning in anticipation of this event can help mitigate some of the ramifications. One option is to increase your 401(k) contributions prior to receiving the bonus. The IRS 401(k) pre-tax contribution limit for 2012 is $17,000; it increases to $17,500 in 2013. Taxpayers over the age of 50 can elect to make a catch-up contribution in addition to the regular limits, up to $5,500 for 2012 and 2013. As long as you stay within the contribution limits, you can effectively manage your tax liability and prepare for retirement at the same time.
Or, perhaps you receive an inheritance from a loved one. In these situations, it is imperative to consult your tax adviser and certified financial planner for a briefing on potential tax consequences based on the type of asset that you inherited and the type of account in which it is held.
Regardless of your decision, commit to use this money wisely. Windfalls are not an everyday occurrence, but when they come, seize them as opportunities to accelerate your progress toward your financial goals.
Life is a journey, plan for it.
Ashleigh Brooker, CFP, is the principal of A.J. Brooker Financial Associates in Columbia. Reach her at info@AJBrooker.com or (803) 724-1235.