When I first started entering sweepstakes, I entered every contest I was eligible to win. The result? I won a lot of junk, and I wasted time that could be spent entering for prizes I really want. For more information about why I think this strategy is a bad idea, see It Pays to Be Picky Entering Sweepstakes.
Now I'm a lot choosier about the sweepstakes I enter. Here are 5 reasons to think twice before entering sweepstakes.
1. You're Not Eligible to Win
When the prizes are so alluring, it's tempting to try to enter sweepstakes you're not eligible to win. So a sweep is only open to business owners, or diabetics, or people under 13 - maybe the sponsors won't notice, right?
But please, avoid sweepstakes you're ineligible to win. Sponsors do due diligence, and it's heartbreaking to be notified that you've won a fantastic prize, only to have it pulled away when the sponsors realize you are ineligible.
Plus it's bad karma. When it's your turn to enter restricted sweepstakes, do you really want your odds to be lower because others break the rules?
2. You Can't Travel on the Specified Dates
If you're about to enter vacation sweepstakes, take a moment to stop and check the rules to see if the sponsor has specified when travel has to take place.
Sometimes, the travel dates are very soon after the sweepstakes ends. Other times, the trip has to be taken over major holidays or other dates that might just not be convenient for you. If you need a lot of lead time to take time off of work, or you can't imagine being away from your family on Christmas, avoid sweepstakes that would require you to travel on those dates.
3. The Taxes are Too High
High-value prizes are a real charge to win, but remember that you're going to be paying sweepstakes taxes on your prizes - and sometimes, it's just not worth it.
Remember that the rule of thumb is that you'll be paying about 1/3 of the prize value in taxes (your individual tax situation will determine the exact amount. Speak with a tax consultant for a more exact number). So if you win, say, a $90,000 vacation, you can expect to pay somewhere around $30,000 in taxes next year. Is it worth it to you? Think about it before entering.
4. You Can't Really Use the Prize
Sure, a win is a win, but entering sweepstakes that offered prizes I didn't really want or need resulted in a lot of junk around the house and a lot of wasted time on my part. Sometimes you can sell the prizes, but that's an investment of time and effort, which could be spent trying to win prizes you really do want. So I recommend skipping the sweepstakes that don't have prizes that you want, or that you can give away, or that you can sell easily.
Of course, there's always the chance that you'll win a prize you don't really need (in which case, check out my article, How to Find Homes for Unwanted Prizes), but at least some of the prizes should be really attractive to you if you want to spend your time wisely.
5. Prize-Related Expenses Would Be Too High
Even when the prizes are free, sometimes they come with related expenses that can add up. For example, if you win a vacation that includes airfare and a hotel, you'll still need to pay for meals, activities, tips, etc. out of pocket.
That's why it's a good idea to read the prize descriptions carefully to determine whether there are related expenses that could add up.
If you do win a prize that you can't use or don't want, you can turn it down when the sponsor contacts you. Sometimes you'll win a grand prize when you were really hoping to win one of the many smaller prizes, or your situation changes between the time you enter and the time you receive the prize - and there's nothing wrong with that.
However, taking a few seconds to really read the prizes and determine whether a sweep is worthwhile to enter saves your time and the sponsors'. This is both considerate and helps you win more of the prizes you really want. Read Why It Pays to Be Picky to find out more about why it makes good sense to avoid sweepstakes with prizes you don't really want to win.