3 Things to Do When a Bunch of Money Falls in Your Lap

A windfall of cash can seem like a dream come true, but it turns out that if you’re not careful, that money can disappear quickly. It is all too common to ignore the warning and end up squandering the money before putting it to good use. Consider taking the following steps if you ever come into a hefty sum so you can make the most of your newfound wealth.

1. Stop & Think
You just received a massive influx of cash so you should hit the stores, right? Wrong. Shopping sprees as soon as your check clears is the No. 1 mistake to avoid. The shock of a sudden large-figure windfall can cause irrational behaviors, lavish spending or sharing too extravagantly. It’s a good idea to avoid spending all the money you just received without making proper use of it.

You can try to take a few months and consider your short- and long-term financial goals. Then you can make sure your spending decisions align with those goals. Park your money somewhere safe like a savings account or CD so you have time to get your emotions under control, evaluate your needs or wants and get in the right mindset for better decision-making. You can also always consider working with a financial adviser if you are unsure about what to do with the money and feeling overwhelmed with the options.

2. Dump the Debt
It’s a good idea to consider your whole financial picture when determining how best to use that new money. It may be hard to learn which debts should be paid off first, but consider the high-interest balances like credit card bills before you get to other debts like student loans or mortgages (the lifetime cost of debt is staggering — paying off high-interest debt can make a big dent in that cost). If you can make prepayments or even finish paying out all the money you owe, your life could be in for a big, positive change. It’s important to make sure you won’t have to pay any penalties if you pre-pay any loans, including your mortgage. Also, even as you pay off debt, it can be a good idea to save some money in an emergency fund so you are covered if any surprise expenses come up. Many experts recommend establishing or strengthening your emergency fund with six to nine months’ of expenses.

Keep in mind that paying down debt has the added benefit of helping your credit score. On-time payments and lower credit utilization rates can help maintain or build a great credit score. You can see how your debt is affecting your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.

3. Plan for Your Future
Once you address your immediate financial health, don’t forget about the future. It’s a good idea to determine how much you will need for retirement, how much your child’s education will cost, details on that second home or business you want to start and get to work on those goals. You could even consider using some of the money to pay the closing costs so you can refinance your mortgage to a lower interest rate. Depending on how high your current mortgage rate is, this can save you significantly in how much money you will pay in interest over time.

Last but far from least important, remember the taxes you may face now that your income for the year has grown substantially. The exact amount will depend on how you came into the money, but it’s important to research what is taxable and be prepared for the sudden bracket bump.

Once you have some funds allocated for saving and repayment, you can invest in the market carefully or splurge within reason. Just be sure to review your finances regularly to make sure you get maximum benefit from that windfall.

By AJ Smith
January 30, 2015