The very first thing you should do if you win the vaccine lottery, according to a financial expert

  • Vaccine lotteries are happening all over the United States.
  • If you win, don’t tell anyone, says a financial planner. Then hire someone to help manage the money.
  • You’ll also want to hire an accountant, because taxes on lottery winnings can be a big surprise.

From California to Ohio to Maryland to New York, states all over the US have announced “vaccine lotteries” to incentivize residents to get their shots. The basic idea is: get vaccinated, get entered to win, and cross your fingers that you’re a lucky winner. 

In Ohio last week, 22-year-old Abbigail Bugenske scored a $1 million prize after getting vaccinated. She said she plans to spend the money on a new car and give some to charity. “I would encourage anyone to get the vaccine. If winning $1 million isn’t enough, I don’t know what would be,” she said. 

But spending and donating cash aren’t the only steps Bugenske — and other vaccine lottery winners — should take, experts say. 

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The first steps to take after winning the vaccine lottery

In general, lawyers and financial planners advise lottery winners to do two things right away upon winning: Don’t tell anyone about the money, and hire a lawyer or financial planner to help you manage your windfall. That’s true for vaccine lottery winners, too. 

You want to keep the information private (if you can — some vaccine lottery winners’ names are being announced publicly) to prevent a deluge of unsolicited requests for cash. Past lottery winners have reported friends, family, and even neighbors expecting cash gifts after learning that someone they know won the jackpot.

Another professional you should hire right away? A certified public accountant. “It’s important to keep in mind that vaccine lottery proceeds are generally taxable, and even if a percentage is withheld for taxes upfront, it may not be enough,” said financial planner Natalie Taylor. “If you win the vaccine lottery, speak with a CPA who can tell you exactly how much to set aside for taxes so that you don’t get a surprise tax bill next April.”

What to do next

Once you’ve got your team of professionals in place, it’s time to decide what to do with your winnings. Though you may want to splurge and spend it all on a luxury vacation or new home, take some time to consider how to set yourself up for a comfortable financial future. 

“As you consider what to do with your winnings, after taxes, remember that this is both a windfall to be enjoyed and an opportunity to put yourself in a substantially better financial position,” Taylor told Insider. “Consider dedicating a percentage of your winnings, perhaps 10%, to a splurge, and using the remainder to build your emergency savings, pay off debt, and invest for your future. Think about your future self and how you want to look back on this opportunity.”

Putting away cash for a rainy day and saving for retirement are two smart ways to protect yourself for years to come. Consider, too, giving certain sums to family or putting some cash towards your child’s — or a niece or nephew’s — education. There are plenty of ways to use your winnings to improve your own circumstances and the lives of your loved ones.

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