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BOSTON (Reuters) - Change your cell phone number, keep your head down and take at least six months before making any major decisions.
That was some of the advice offered by financial advisors who warned that the lucky winners of Wednesday's record-setting $1.5 billion U.S. Powerball lottery jackpot should be ready for unexpected stresses.
The prize is large enough that a winner choosing the option of receiving 30 $50 million installments over the next 29 years could easily pay off the $129,579 in debt the average U.S. household carried at the end of last year, according to NerdWallet's Annual American Household Credit Card debt. In fact, the first payment alone would be enough to wipe out the debt of a few hundred average Joes.
But the money, also available in a $930 million lump sum, will set huge expectations for the winner and everyone remotely in his or her social circle, experts said.
"You need to protect yourself," said James Grubman, a wealth psychologist and author of "Strangers in Paradise: How Families Adapt to Wealth Across Generations." "You have to learn how to say no because you're going to have a lot of people who are going to want you to say yes."
Powerball tickets are sold in 44 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Winners are publicly identified in all but five states.
Those lucky enough to defy astronomical odds to win but not lucky enough to live in Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota or Ohio, where winners can remain anonymous, should brace for a long list of requests from family, friends and others, experts said.
"You should get a new cell phone. Keep the old one so you can check messages, but you want to go under the radar," said Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner and author of "Sudden Money: Managing a Financial Windfall."
A winner should not immediately come forward to claim the prize but instead take time to find experienced advisors and develop a plan for how to handle the prize, including gifts to family and friends, before getting thrown into the spotlight that will accompany the largest lottery award in U.S. history, Bradley said.
"I have worked with many lottery winners who have called me from the hospital. They were in because of stress," Bradley warned. "Nobody is prepared for a lottery win, a big win like this."
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Richard Chang