DES MOINES, Iowa — You thought you were a sure bet for Wednesday night’s estimated $1.2 billion Powerball jackpot, but alas, there was no big winner.
But now, with an even more massive $1.6 billion prize up for grabs Saturday night, players might be smart to dream of an annuity, rather than a truckload of cash.
No, it's not as sexy as cash, but it's an annuity doled out over 29 years that would pay that advertised $1.6 billion prize. Winners who opt for cash would get $782.4 million — less than half as much.
Still, winners of giant jackpots nearly always take the cash, and financial advisers say that might be a mistake.
Nicholas Bunio, a certified financial planner from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, said even with his expertise, he would take an annuity because it would so dramatically reduce his risk of making poor investment decisions.
“It allows you to make a mistake here and there,” Bunio said. “People don’t understand there is a potential for loss. They only focus on the potential for gain.”
The gulf between the cash and annuity options has become larger because inflation has prompted a rise in interest rates, which in turn results in potentially larger investment gains. With annuities, the jackpot cash is essentially invested and then paid out to winners over three decades.
Under the annuity plan, winners will receive an immediate payment and then 29 annual payments that rise by 5% each year until finally reaching the $1.6 billion total.
Lottery winners who take cash either don’t want to wait for their winnings or figure they can invest the money and end up with more money than an annuity would offer. It's what the biggest winners nearly always do, including the buyers of a Mega Millions ticket in Illinois in July who received a lump sum payment of $780.5 million after winning a $1.337 billion prize.
As Jeremy Keil, a financial adviser from New Berlin, Wisconsin, put it, “There is no bad choice.”
Keil said Powerball’s annuity assumes a 4.3% investment gain of the jackpot’s cash prize.
“If you think you can beat the 4.3%, you should take the cash,” Keil said. “If you don’t, take the annuity.”
While purchasing five Powerball tickets at a Speedway gas station in Minneapolis, 58-year-old Teri Thomas said she’d rather take the cash prize because she doesn’t think she’ll live long enough to collect an annuity over 29 years.
“And I’d rather get all my good deeds done right away and feel good about the giving,” Thomas said, adding she would donate to groups that do medical research for children as well as help veterans, homeless people and animals.
Charles Williams of Chicago, who buys a Powerball ticket each week and always plays the same numbers, was adamant that he'd take the cash option.
“I want all the money. I want the cash out and then I'm going to spend it how I want it because ain't nothing guaranteed in life," Williams said.
Of course, it’s good to keep in mind that your chance of winning the jackpot is incredibly small, at 1 in 292.2 million. That’s why no one has won Powerball’s top prize since Aug. 3 — resulting in 38 consecutive draws without a jackpot winner.
Officials urge anyone lucky enough to win a Powerball jackpot to consult a financial adviser -- while keeping that valuable ticket safe -- before showing up at a lottery office for an oversized check.
Matt Chancey, an investment adviser in Tampa, Florida, said that certainly makes sense. But Chancey also urged winners to understand that if advisers earn a percentage from the investment of all that money, they have a financial stake in how the money is paid out and should be clear about any potential conflict.
“If you go to a financial person and say you want to invest $1 billion, the financial person will say take the $600 million and we’ll pay taxes on it, you’ll have $300 million left over and I’ll invest it for you,” Chancey said. “That investment adviser will get fees off managing that money.”
Chancey said talented investors probably could make more money than paid through an annuity but there is risk and advisers need to be open about their potential gain depending on the jackpot winners' choices.
Powerball is played in 45 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.