Money lessons learned from pro athletes’ financial fouls

At last look, an estimated 60 percent of former NBA players go broke within five years of departing the league. And by no means are these financial problems confined to the NBA. A reported 78 percent of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or under financial stress just two years after retirement.

As the salaries of professional athletes across all sports grow larger, so, too, does the number of individuals seeking to prey on their successes and wealth. The reality is, athletes are targets the day they sign those contracts.

During my 16-year NBA career, I saw newly retired teammates lose everything to financial schemes and scams, dishonest or unqualified advisors, and reckless spending only a few years after leaving the league. Since starting a second career as a financial advisor more than a decade ago, I’ve seen this storyline repeat itself again and again — with high-net worth individual investors, as well.

Not a month goes by without seeing a headline describing the latest riches-to-rags story in professional sport.

For most athletes, there is no easy fix for a significant financial setback. Unlike virtually every other profession out there, an athlete’s career earnings are compressed into just a handful of years. Time is not on the side of those who are undisciplined, unrealistic or too trusting. Careers are short, and savings must last for the rest of your life. Beating the odds requires a lot of work and discipline.

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As we are in the midst of various draft seasons, here are some guidelines to offer new athletes and high-net-worth individuals that may help improve their journeys:

It’s your money — own it. Athletes in their prime earning years can develop a detachment from their own money. Since so much is coming in so quickly, suddenly few purchases require more than a moment’s consideration, so money stops being a real concern and becomes just a bunch of numbers on paper — until it’s gone.

It’s essential that high-net-worth individuals realize the tenuousness of their situations and just how vulnerable they are, even if they have advisors in place. Taking ownership of their money and keeping constant track of what their advisors are doing with it is the first step toward security.

Preserving capital can be as hard as obtaining it. Though we’ve become accustomed to the likes of Michael Jordan and Michael Strahan settling into second careers as endorsers, TV personalities and even team owners, most athletes won’t be so lucky.

The simple truth is they won’t have the opportunity to make money like this again. That’s difficult for a young person to recognize when in the midst of living a dream. There are so many ways it can disappear: friends, family, lifestyle and constant pitches for can’t-miss opportunities.

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