What is a Lump-Sum Distribution?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 January 2019
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A lump-sum distribution is a method of payment that involves providing the recipient with the entire amount due at one time. This is in contrast to the process of issuing a series of payments over an extended period of time to the recipient. The option of issuing a one-time payment is often available as an option with various types of pension plans, lottery and sweepstakes winnings, court settlements, and profit sharing plans.

There are several benefits to a lump-sum distribution. The most obvious is that the recipient has the ability to make use of all the issued funds immediately, rather than having to wait. In situations where the recipient has pressing financial obligations such as hospital bills or to pay household expenses while looking for work, the ability to receive the entire amount at one time can make a huge difference in the financial stability of the individual. Where there is a lot of concern over finances, a lump-sum distribution can also go a long way toward providing the recipient with peace of mind.


While there are advantages to receiving a lump-sum distribution from a retirement or pension plan, a lottery, or some other type of plan, there are also some drawbacks to the approach. One of the more common issues has to do with the payment of taxes on the funds received. Depending on the tax structure in the country where the recipient resides, the tax obligation that is created by receiving the entire sum at one time may be quite high, consuming up to half of the total amount received. If the recipient also has other means of generating income during the same tax period, the overall effect may be to place the taxpayer in an even higher tax bracket, thus increasing the tax due on his or her overall income.

There are situations in which it is possible to receive a lump-sum distribution and not incur a large tax obligation. In the event that taxes were paid as funds were originally deposited into a qualified retirement plan, there is usually no need to pay taxes when the funds are withdrawn incrementally or in a lump sum. Individuals who move from one employer to another may be able to receive a lump-sum distribution from the retirement plan of the previous employer and not pay any taxes if the funds are placed into a new qualified plan within a certain period of time. In some countries, survivors may be entitled to tax breaks in the case of pensioner death, and the subsequent disbursement of the pension funds to a surviving spouse or child.

Before choosing a lump-sum distribution option, it is a good idea to look closely at prevailing tax laws and regulations, and determine how receiving this one time payment would impact the overall finances of the recipient. If the outcome is less than favorable, then choosing to receive a series of payments spread out over a number of years is likely to be a better choice. Doing so will still provide the recipient with a steady income while minimizing the amount of taxes due each year, and possibly allowing the recipient to retain a higher percentage of the distribution than would be possible with the one time payment approach.



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