Money Management: What to do With a Lump Sum

Let's start with an extremely pleasant hypothetical: You just received $25,000. The source of the cash doesn't matter — it could be an inheritance, a gift, or a bonus you receive as part of your job.

Your first instinct may be to spend it all on a big-ticket item like a new car. While this sounds good, a car can be a depreciating asset, and that purchase may not be a particularly wise move when an alternative can include making smart investment choices to put yourself on the path to financial well-being. It's also important to take the time to discuss the tax implications of this lump sum with a tax professional.

With the goal of financial well-being in mind, here are a few tips to help translate a lump sum of money into an appreciating asset that can increase in value over time.

Step One: Give Yourself a Small Treat

Your goal is to invest the vast majority of your newfound wealth such that it will provide lifelong benefits. But for some of us, the notion of responsibly setting every penny aside is too much to bear. For that reason, it's OK to make a small purchase, just to get it out of your system.

"The idea is to alleviate that impulse to spend all the money," says Patrick Rehm, a Regions Investment Solutions Financial Advisor*. "Take a chunk and improve your house, or take a vacation, and then you can get serious about what you need to do." But make it a relatively modest vacation. Aim to spend no more than 5 percent of the sum you received — $1,250, in the case of $25,000.  

Step Two: Increase Retirement Contributions

Now that there's $25,000 in your checking account, you're probably not thrilled about returning to work on Monday morning. But use the money to take maximum advantage of perks such as employer-matching funds to your retirement account, and make the maximum allowable contributions to tax-friendly investment vehicles such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and health savings accounts. "These are top-priority investments that can pay big dividends down the road," Rehm says.

Step Three: Invest Your Money

Investing in financial markets can be a great way to put your money to work, but it's important to do so in a way that is consistent with your risk tolerance. Work with a financial advisor to determine your tolerance for risk and develop an investment strategy. "Be patient and diversified," Rehm says. "If you're young, especially, it's important to keep your money in the market."

Investments can be spread across sectors and asset classes to help mitigate market swings and risk.**

If your current mortgage rate is low, Rehm recommends investing the money over using it to pay off a mortgage. As long as interest rates remain low, you might earn more money by investing in ETFs or mutual funds than you would have saved by paying off your mortgage.

Step Four: Make a Financial Plan

You're not obligated to leave the money alone forever. Pick some point at which you want to access the funds, and work with a financial advisor to craft a strategy that optimizes the likelihood that your desired amount of money will be there for you when you need it. By then, if you've followed steps one through three, the sum at your disposal has the potential to be greater than the original investment amount.

When you find yourself with an unexpected lump sum of money, it's tempting to forget everything you learned about financial responsibility over the years. It's fine to treat yourself, but crafting a careful financial plan of action can help grow your investment and keep money there for you in the long term.

** A diversified portfolio does not assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.


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