North Jersey Record
Published 3:46 PM EDT Oct 23, 2018
If you win the $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot Tuesday night, don't blow it all on Ferraris, yachts and mansions. And do yourself a favor and take the 30-year annuity option.
This is advice from an accountant of a billionaire.
Wendy Lewis is on a team that handles the personal financial operations for one of the richest men in America. She asked that her employer not be named for this article. We assure you that he is quite real and that he has several billion dollars. This wealthy individual is on more than one "Forbes" richest people list.
Lewis handles the accounting for the mansions, yachts and the "aircraft stuff," among other things. If something needs to be fixed on one of the multimillion-dollar yachts, she gets the bill.
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"People don't think about the cost of big houses and airplanes and yachts," Lewis said. "That stuff takes a ton of money. Repairs and maintenance on a yacht is hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The electric bill on a 10,000-square-foot house is going to be $8,000 a month depending on where you live."
Part of owning a mansion is hiring staff. That means payroll, insurance, worker's compensation and payroll taxes, she said.
"It adds up," and yachts are more expensive, she said. "It's not like: 'I bought it, now I have it.' It doesn't work out that way. Can you afford the bills?"
The worst thing the winner of the largest-ever lottery jackpot could do is take the $904 million cash payout, put it in a checking account and "blow it all on stupid crap," she said. "It's easy to spend money, but you just run out if you're not smart about it."
The money needs to get invested, she said, especially if you plan to live on it.
"If you're going to come in to a lot of money, you're going to want to consult a financial adviser anyway," Lewis said. "You're not going to get $900 million and put it in a savings account."
She said if the winner decides to take the lump sum, the question should be, "How do I maximize the amount of money I get to keep?"
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As far as where to invest the money, Lewis mentioned stocks, land and properties. She said there is no billionaire blueprint out there for investing, but putting it all in the stock market would be a gamble. Something like buying a sports team might not be the best idea either, she said.
"I would say trustworthy industries: mining, railroads and construction," she said. "Those are industries that are pretty solid."
Lewis said her boss doesn't invest in technology or start-ups.
"That's not his thing," she said of the unnamed billionaire. "It's businesses that are established that you know you can make money in. I don't know if that's his rule of thumb."
He's not out there buying cryptocurrencies, she said.
"Well, not that I know of."
Take the annuity option
Lewis said she is a fan of the annuity option.
- A quick side note on how jackpots work. The Mega Millions jackpot amount of $1.6 billion is an "advertised amount" based on the yield of 30-year Treasury notes, explained the New Jersey Lottery. In other words, lottery jackpots are really just the cash amount. That larger number? It's an estimate of what the jackpot is worth if the winner lets the government invest the money for them over 30 years.
"Personally, I would go annuity because that ensures that you're not going to blow it all and you have that for-sure income for however many years," Lewis said. "Plus I think if you take it over time, the tax implications are less harsh."
It's also the safer bet, she said.
"You're not worried about whether the stocks crash or if you invest in a poor business," she said.
Give to charity
Lewis said charitable giving to registered 501(c)3s is always a good idea because it's tax-deductible.
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"At the end of the year, that would reduce your tax liability on the money you won," she said.
As far as setting up a philanthropy or starting a business, Lewis said that's at your own risk and is a personal choice.
"And obviously everybody always wants to help out their friends and family," she said. "That's not necessarily deductible. I know that gifts to an extent can be tax-free even if it's to an individual."
But, as the disclaimer goes: You should consult your own tax advisers for more information.
And remember, the odds of matching all six numbers: 1 in 302,575,350.
Contributing: John Bacon, USA TODAY. Follow Jai Agnish on Twitter: @JaiAgnish
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