NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Even you get rich easily, maintaining those riches and turning them into lasting wealth is far more difficult.
Whether you're a professional athlete burning through your rookie contract money, a lottery winner buying one too many rounds for the house or an heir whose full inheritance came a bit more quickly than expected, there is a whole lot of temptation to spend that money frivolously or out of a sense of obligation. Just realize that, without a plan in place to help it grow, those newfound riches are finite.
“Almost anyone who gets a large windfall can fall prey to ‘sudden wealth syndrome,’” says Shomari Hearn, certified financial planner and vice president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group. “The recipient can fall into the trap of believing their newfound wealth will never run out and they can buy everything and do anything.”
Hearn notes that some people who get an inheritance, sign a big contract, get a stock payout or win a settlement buy huge houses and boats and go on spending sprees. Some invest heavily in risky ventures or faltering businesses owned by friends or family members. However, some -- especially professional athletes or those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions who see their share of a stock split or company buyout balloon -- fall under the category of “high net workers.” That means they've made a whole lot of money but, according to Frank Trotter, executive vice president of EverBank, will still need to work, because they aren't taking the right financial steps to secure their wealth.
“I don’t think fear is a key element for this group, but a lack of action will prevent them from moving from a high cash-flow segment to high net worth,” Trotter says. “I defined ‘rich’ as 'the sustainable ability to reasonably buy what you want without regard to budget – whether retired or not.' For a majority of high net workers, this will not be achieved, based on their average behavior.”
Trotter notes that the high net worker has been “working and spending at a torrid pace throughout their key earning years,” and that even their median net worth of $1 million can dry up once income that averages $374,000 a year stops as they hit retirement age. Jared Feldman, a partner at New York firm Anchin Block & Anchin, notes that while there are ways to mitigate the tax burden and preserve the value of, say, a high-stakes win at the casino, holding onto life-changing proceeds from a much larger windfall can be much more difficult.
“We see windfalls with our clients when they're selling a business: big-time lifetime events,” he says. “Then we start looking into other buckets like estate planning. What have they done to mitigate the tax burden and take care of their family down the road?”
On its face, real estate seems like a practical way of investing some of that cash into an appreciating asset. Everbank's Trotter notes that 30% of high net workers plan to do just that within the next two years. However, even if another housing crisis doesn't come along, there are ways that buying a house -- or a second or third home -- may not be such a sound use of your new money.
”Property taxes, upkeep and remodeling can tie up a lot of your income,” Hearn says. “This can be hard to undo later on if you don’t have enough cash to meet your day-to-day expenses or save for retirement.”
It's ultimately up to you to decide if you want to bring in advisors or handle your riches yourself, but Hearn suggests at least having a plan. Draw out a budget so you'll know what you can and can't afford. Put that plan into place before making large purchases to make sure you're making the right decision.
Secondly, plan to absorb a tax hit. Hearn notes that inheritances, life insurance proceeds and divorce settlements typically are not taxable, but most other big-money windfalls are. A financial advisor or accountant will be able to tell you how much tax you’ll owe and when it will be due, but if you don't take that route, you should really do your homework before the IRS does it for you.
“Set aside any money you’ll need to cover state and federal taxes before doing anything else,” Hearn says.
Also, while it's great that you want to pay off debt, don't just go wiping it all out at once. Your worst debt, like credit card debt that does nothing but harm your credit score and charge you exorbitant interest, should definitely get paid off. But student loans, business loans and mortgages? You might want to consider a payment schedule that preserves the benefits and tax breaks that come with that “good” debt.
Also, create a budget that ensures your expenses won't exceed your income. Even if you opt to retire, you're going to want to refrain from invading principal too quickly and running out of money. However, create some wiggle room in that budget for the occasional big spend. That flexibility makes it far more likely that you'll stick to the budget and not just go on a spree. The thinking is that making allowances for a car here or a vacation there will keep you from splurging on it all at once and not knowing how much you have left until the dust settles. It also gives you some time to think about the implications of what you're getting into.
“Set a budget too rigidly, and you run the risk of abandoning it altogether,” Hearn says. “A budget you ignore is useless.”
That budget will also make it a whole lot easier to set your long-term plans. As Trotter notes, a high net worker is five times more likely than the average individual to start a 529 plan to fund a child's college education. Those immediate riches could also be placed into a trust fund for your child or spouse or a tax-deductible charitable donation to a cause or family foundation of your choosing. At the very least, you should make plans for your own retirement and most certainly update your will -- or create one. You have every opportunity to dictate where your newfound wealth goes, but it's much tougher to do so from the grave.
“It’s tempting to use new money to invest in exotic investments, but a well-diversified portfolio adjusted for your risk tolerance is the best way to secure your financial goals,” Hearn says. “Depending on your situation, you may want to consider more complex planning techniques, such as creating trusts or reconfiguring insurance arrangements.”