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July 30, 2012 5:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to come into a large sum of money (in the $300-$500k range). I've never had a large sum of money. Looking for advice on what to do next.

In the next couple of months, I will likely come into a pretty significant chunk of money due to a legal settlement - in the $300-$500k range. My wife and I are not broke (between us we have about $40k in 403b/IRA accounts, and about $15k in student loan debt), but we've certainly never had this kind of cash in our lives, and have no idea how to effectively manage this much money.

Some data points:

- We are interested in potentially purchasing a home, so we would like to have the money available to us as opposed to tying it up in investment. However, we live in New York City for the moment, and even with our combined incomes we're unlikely to be able to afford a decent apartment in the city, even with a $300k down payment.

- We would obviously like to try and invest this money wisely and see it grow, but again, we would like to have it somewhere that we can get at it without seeing a significant financial penalty (as you might in a 401k, for example.)

As you can see, we're flying kind of blind here. We never anticipated this windfall, and we're wondering how to make it work best for us.

Is it best just to invest for the time being and deal with penalties if we decide to buy? Should we just let it collect interest in an account while we look for an apartment to buy? Is there some brilliant third option we're not thinking of? Could you help, Metafilter?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (30 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Get a financial adviser.
posted by xingcat at 5:37 PM on July 30, 2012 [11 favorites]

Seconding xingcat. And aside from that, in my opinion, you'll want this money later in life when you really need it...your financial advisor will help you bank this away for that moment.
posted by samsara at 5:41 PM on July 30, 2012

Don't make any big decisions right away. It's not that much money, you could blow it all pretty fast.
posted by thelonius at 5:43 PM on July 30, 2012 [12 favorites]

You should put it all in the three Gs: gold, Google and growth funds.

Ok, don't, actually. I just made that up. And you should treat any free advice you get off the internet with an equal amount of skepticism. No one here knows your financial situation, and no one can tell you what is best for you.

If you live in NYC, then you probably have friends who are some degree of wealthy. Ask them for a connection to a financial adviser. Obviously do your due diligence -- if someone offers you a return that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Everything is in the crapper right now, but you should still be able to make a modest amount off your money just because of how large the sum is.
posted by griphus at 5:43 PM on July 30, 2012 [18 favorites]

Also, if you're not getting an adviser, you definitely need a CPA to handle the tax situation of simply accepting the money.
posted by griphus at 5:44 PM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you make enough money to afford a mortgage, I would suggest buying two condos and renting one out. Or buy one and have a very small mortgage.

It would make sense to put the money in the bank and let it collect interest if the interest is high, but it is so low right now that it isn't worth putting the money in a locked CD or something. T-Bills will get you a higher interest, but if you plan to buy a home, it is better for you to put the money into the property than it is to invest. The interest rates for a mortgage is approximately 3.6-3.7% if you have excellent credit and qualifying credentials. The interest on a CD or T-Bill is nowhere near that. Better to put it into the house, I think.
posted by Yellow at 5:47 PM on July 30, 2012

Yes, get a financial adviser. But first, get an accountant. Because this definitely affects your taxes.

Second, spend a bit of time talking with each other about what you want to do with the money. Yes, you want to buy a house. What else do you want to do I'm guessing retirement is a pretty important thing? Do you want to have kids? Do not assume that you both will magically agree what to do with this money. Talk about it.

Perhaps even go get some counseling from a person who deals with emotional stuff. Not necessarily a psychologist, but someone who can help you recognize and process the changes that huge amounts of money mean in peoples lives. I say this because you can find plenty of cautionary tales about lottery winners who are broke within a year or ten years of their payout. After you've wrapped your heads around what you want, and what it means to be able to do some of these things, then go ahead and start doing them.

Put the money in a bank account (or series of bank accounts with different institutions) that are FDIC insured while you take your time picking a financial adviser that is a good fit for both of your personalities. Some of them are pretty sharky, and others will give you terrible vibes, and somewhere you will find one that is awesome for you. This means you trust them, they have a good track record that isn't astronomically Bernie Madoff good, and they will let you talk to some of their former/current clients.
posted by bilabial at 5:47 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're thinking about buying a house, I'd consider moving to a commuter area outside of NYC. You could own two houses on the Hudson Valley line on metronorth outright for that sum (or, you know, just buy one and invest the rest).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:50 PM on July 30, 2012

Yes, definitely get a financial advisor. There are significant tax implications for what you do with that money, and that will affect your choices.

However, I think it's safe to say that you can plan on paying off those student loans sooner than you thought.
posted by twblalock at 5:59 PM on July 30, 2012

Also, as another option you could move somewhere far away from New York City so that a sum which could sustain more than a quarter century of minimalist living footloose and fancy-free doesn't evaporate into a handful of years of big city living expenses.
posted by XMLicious at 6:01 PM on July 30, 2012

There are several previous questions on here about similar situations - look at the questions tagged with inheritance+money. You might also want to look at articles for 'what to do if you win the lottery'.

General advice I have seen
1. get experts to help you. Here's a guide to hiring a fee-only financial advisor (and why), plus 8 questions to ask before hiring one.
2. Don't do anything sudden. Stash the money somewhere safe (under your new advisors guidance) and think about it for six months or more. (Note that FDIC insurance won't cover your entire amount, so you'd need multiple accounts if you went with savings. Your advisor should tell you things like this).
2a. except for paying off obvious things like credit card debt. Your student loans may or may not fall under this section, depending on interest rates etc.
3. During this six months [plus], build a complete financial plan with your spouse. Retirement, whether/where you want to buy a house, whether you're going to have kids and pay for their college years.
4. Execute your plan
posted by jacalata at 6:01 PM on July 30, 2012 [21 favorites]

Seconding the "fee-only financial advisor" advice! And congrats on the windfall.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:02 PM on July 30, 2012

Sorry if "congrats" was inappropriate, in case the windfall was the result of a wrongful death action regarding a family member or any number of other things where you'd rather have a time machine than the money. My apologies for not thinking before I posted.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:03 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bank/invest it, per advice above.

The thing you need to keep telling yourselves, over and over again as necessary: "We are not rich."

Because you're not. Look into the future and think about what will sustain you when you are no longer employed.

posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:07 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is good advice above, start with a certified financial planner, it may make sense to have this money in a trust, no idea, they can help you with this.

Schedule at least one appointment with a tax professional, shouldn't take more than an hour, do this after meeting with the financial planner.

Meet with a lawyer as needed for any legal documents, trusts, etc required to meet the goals outlined with the financial planner and Tax person.
posted by iamabot at 6:09 PM on July 30, 2012

Do pay off your student loans immediately. See a financial advisor and/or an accountant for advice on what to do with the rest.
posted by orange swan at 6:21 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actually, his may not affect your taxes as much as you might think. Compensatory damages for everything except lost wages tend not to be treated as taxable income. The theory is that if you had to lay out money for things like medical expenses or property damage, the money you're getting here isn't income, it's reimbursement.

Of course, to figure out which parts of this settlement are taxable and which aren't, you're going to need that accountant.

Other than that, definitely see the financial adviser. But I think I can pretty safely say that what you should really do is immediately sock away $50k-100k in a savings account as cash reserves. This is the proverbial "f*ck you money," i.e., a reserve that will get you over an extended period of unemployment for whatever reason, or absorb similar shocks to your income. This is what lets you tell your boss to stick it where the sun don't shine because you don't actually need this stupid job. If it takes you a month or six to find another one, hey, you can afford the downtime. You can't afford to stop working forever, but you can afford to be without a job for a few months while you look for a new situation. And in this economy, you might just need it.

Once you've got that, then talk about investment or paying off debt.
posted by valkyryn at 6:37 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

A good accountant is step one. The accountant is *way* more important than a financial planner, because without the one, the other is useless.
posted by colin_l at 7:09 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid to see multiple financial advisers before choosing one to work with. Maybe now would be a good time to start interviewing them, so when the money hits your pocket you will already have found someone you feel comfortable working with.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:41 PM on July 30, 2012

Get an accountant to start. The tax issues are your first thing.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:55 PM on July 30, 2012

also, you should definitely put 1% towards 'fun'...because, y'know, life is more than just 'well-invested'...take a trip, take a class, get some fancy dress-up clothes and hit the opera, cook with truffles.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:22 PM on July 30, 2012

Put it towards your retirement. Don't touch it until you are 65.

Tax-free municipal bond mutual funds might be good.
posted by conrad53 at 9:33 PM on July 30, 2012

I like the advice given in previous AskMes: set aside a small amount for one appropriate splurge, so it's out of your system, then do nothing for the moment other than get advice on any tax liability.

Once that's sorted, stash it somewhere very dull and safe for six months, ideally somewhere you can't actually touch it without a small penalty. By the time that's done, you'll be in a position to have a well-informed conversation with a professional about your priorities and options.
posted by holgate at 10:51 PM on July 30, 2012

While the recommendations to invest it all yourself sound appealing, that approach has always scared me. It's very easy to beat yourself up about every little loss when you manage your own investments.

I use a firm that manages my money and takes a % cut (0.9-1.5%, I think) of my quarterly holdings. So yes, they make more money by making me more money, but their cut on gains is just a small percent. But this has the potential to eat away at your money if you have a very conservative portfolio with them and aren't earning much. My money is held in custodial accounts in my name, not by the firm themselves.

Every year one of the senior VPs helps me rebalance my 401k, which is not held by them. I send him my current holdings and details of what other funds are available and he tells me how to redistribute current holdings and how to alter future elections.

Having a professional manage my money does a couple things:
1) It makes the money just a little bit further out of my reach. I have to call them to get transfers, so it makes it a little harder to splurge.

2) Whether or not they do better than an index fund from Vanguard or not (and they certainly claim they do, but also recommend an index fund from Vanguard if you have money you want to manage yourself), they let me sleep better at night because they are professionals and this is all they do. If they lose money, then I feel like "well if they lost money, I definitely would have lost money.

3) They assuage fears by having a personal touch. My mother sends a VP there newspaper articles about investing and problems on Wall Street. He always sends a very pleasant and well though-out response, with citations and all.

If you want a good recommendation, MeMail me.
posted by MonsieurBon at 12:06 AM on July 31, 2012

Sit down with your partner and make a list. Make a few lists, actually.

First, forget about the money, and have a good solid think about what's really imprtant to you. What do you want your life to be like in 10 years? What kind of job do you want to have, and where do you want your daily energy to be going (into the job, into a hobby, into a family)? Do you want to have kids? Is there some other goal that's really important (publish a book, start a business, ...)?

Now you've got some context. What can that money do for you, that can help you get toward those goals? Depending on what your ideal life is, this money could help provide you security short-term or long-term (retirement), or a condo, or capital for a business, or supplement your income to take time off work while having kids, or really anything people have mentioned above. There's not a universal right answer, there's only your right answer.

Once you know what your end goal is, talk to your financial planner about how to make that happen. Though, as mentioned, you might want to get an advisor sooner rather than later, to help you with tax implications of receiving the money.
posted by aimedwander at 6:44 AM on July 31, 2012

There are different types of financial advisors out there, so let me amplify a bit on the "get a financial advisor" advice because it is easy to do this wrong.

In short, you don't want a stock broker. They make money on transactions and various incentives from the funds where you are invested. There are good and wholesome stock brokers out there working for the investment houses (Edward Jones, Merryl Lynch, etc) but you have enough money that what you really want is a fee-based financial advisor. In your first exploratory meeting ask if he or she is a fiduciary. This means that they are legally obligated by the SEC to put your interests first and to disclose any potential conflict of interest up front. If they aren't or hedge around the answer don't work with them.

The world of financial advice is largely split between the broker/advisor divide. You have enough funds that you are better served by a fiduciary. They will spend the time to get to know your goals for the money, because at the end of the day that is what really matters. Talk about growth and dividends & whatnot means nothing if it doesn't relate back to what you aim to accomplish.

Incidentally, you may not know for months, so having a good 6 month "let it ride" decision is wise. If you are prudent this windfall can significantly increase the options you have.
posted by dgran at 6:55 AM on July 31, 2012

Get a good CPA, then a fee-based financial advisor. Do what they tell you to do.

If you have questions, ask them. If you have a lot of questions, ask them.

Don't do anything that doesn't make sense or doesn't feel right to you.

Don't do anything right away. Sit with the money for a while.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:19 AM on July 31, 2012

The reality is there is a big difference between 300k and 500k and neither is really a large sum of money anymore, especially if you're living in NYC where housing costs are still very high. If you make a plan for one sum it may not be the right plan for a different amount.

Right now you and your wife need to set life goals and determine how much money those goals will cost. In terms of an apartment vs investment, remember that real estate is also an investment, though as we all recently discovered, one that can be just as risky as the stock market. An apartment in NYC will always hold its value better than a single family home in Phoenix but if all your eggs are in the one basket, upon retirement you could be in trouble either way.

I agree with everyone else that a good fee-based Finacial Advisor is important here in helping you sort out how to keep your investments diverse and make quiality decisions.
posted by GilvearSt at 10:43 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing financial adviser/accountant and discussing your long-term goals with them.

When you get settled, seriously look into donating (for both tax reasons and for altruistic reasons) to charitable organizations and investing in small businesses in your community. Make the world a better place with your good fortune.
posted by ostranenie at 6:53 PM on July 31, 2012

Get a good CPA, then a fee-based financial advisor. Do what they tell you to do.

It shouldn't be too hard to find a company that has both of these under one roof for a flat rate. You really want the flat rate if you want stable, long term advice. Sure, they get kickbacks from the funds they steer you towards, but they disclose that and you can examine the fine print. Paying a percentage every year whether you are up or down is guano.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:23 PM on September 16, 2012

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