What Is a Lump Sum Payment, and How Does It Work?

What Is a Lump-Sum Payment?

A lump-sum payment is a monetary sum paid in one single payment instead of allocated into installments. They are commonly associated with pension plans and other retirement vehicles, such as 401(k) accounts, where retirees accept a smaller upfront lump-sum payment rather than a larger payment issued in installments over time.

In mortgage lending, a "bullet repayment" is the lump sum of the outstanding loan paid to a lender.

Key Takeaways

  • A lump-sum payment is an amount paid all at once, as opposed to an amount that is paid in installments.
  • A lump-sum payment is not the best choice for everyone; for some, it may make more sense for the funds to be annuitized as periodic payments.
  • Based on interest rates, tax situation, and penalties, an annuity may end up having a higher net present value (NPV) than the lump sum.

Lump-Sum Payment

Understanding a Lump-Sum Payment

Lump-sum payments can describe a bulk payment to acquire a group of items, such as a company paying one sum for the inventory of another business. Lottery winners will also typically have the option to take a lump-sum payout versus yearly payments.

There are pros and cons to accepting a lump-sum payment rather than an annuity, fixed payments over a period of time. The right choice depends on the value of the lump sum versus the payments and one’s financial goals. Annuities provide a degree of financial security, but an older retiree in poor health might derive greater benefit from a lump sum payment. Securing an upfront payment often guarantees an asset to pass on to your heirs.

An upfront payment might enable you to buy a house or other large purchase that you would otherwise not be able to afford with annuities. Similarly, you can invest the money and potentially earn a higher rate of return than the effective rate of return associated with the annual payments.

It is not always best to take the lump-sum payment in lieu of periodic annual payments; if offered the choice, consider taxes, investments, and the net present value (NPV), which accounts for the time value of money.

Lump Sum vs. Annuity Payments

To illustrate how lump-sum and annuity payments work, imagine you win $10 million in the lottery. If you take the lump-sum payment, the entire winnings would be subject to income tax in that year, and you would be in the highest tax bracket.

However, if you choose the annuity option, the payments could come to you over several decades. For example, instead of $10 million in income in one year, your annuity payment might be $300,000 a year.

You would avoid the highest federal income tax bracket of 37% for single people with incomes greater than $539,900 in 2022 and $578,125 in 2023, or $647,850 for married couples filing jointly in 2022 and $693,750 in 2023.

Such tax questions depend on the size of the lottery win, current income tax rates, projected income tax rates, state of residency when you win, in which state you will live after the win, and investment returns. But if you can earn an annual return of more than 3% to 4%, the lump sum option usually makes more sense given a 30-year annuity.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2023."

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