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How players can avoid going broke

Being rich and being wealthy aren’t the same. Jack Bechta

Print This August 19, 2009, 09:42 AM EST

Playing in the NFL can make a player rich, but it doesn't guarantee he'll stay that way when his career is over. Consider this: 75 percent of former NFL players are broke.

That’s right. Within five years after an NFL player has retired from the game (assuming he played three years or more), chances are he’s lost all the money he made in his career. The amazing part about this number is that it also applies to players who played 10 years or more. To compound the problem, about 75 percent of NFL players are also divorced, according to a recent story in the New York Times.

This is an issue I’ve written about in the past. As an agent, it frustrates me that this number hasn’t changed. You’d think that the legions of new players would learn from the mistakes of those who preceded them. They haven’t. You’d think that the NFL Players Association financial advisory watchdog registration plan would weed out bad advisers. It hasn’t. You’d think that the millions spent on player development resources by the NFL and team owners would help. It hasn’t. You’d think that the army of seasoned agents in place today could surround their clients with good financial people. They’re haven’t.

There are a lot of reasons why the 75-percent figure is not going away any time soon. Here are five:

1. Large agencies and financial firms help create bad habits. When firms are competing to sign first-round picks, one of the biggest tools in their arsenal is the “line of credit” or “up-front loan.” It can also be disguised as a ”marketing advance.” They range in size from $50,000 to $500,000. Between the draftee’s last college game and the day he signs his first contract, he has cash to burn with little or no accountability. Thus, bad habit No. 1 begins: Spend money before you make it.

Solution: Put a cap of $75,000 on loans from agents and financial advisers registered with the NFLPA and create sizable penalties for breaking these rules. But I doubt this will ever happen.

2. Taking care of the family is a noble thing, but have a plan. Many draftees can’t wait to take care of their parents, extended family and even their friends. The problem is that once you turn on the faucet, it’s very difficult to turn it off. It’s like a drug, and you’re giving it away for free. Remember, the brother or aunt who is two months behind in their car payment will always be behind. If you help them out, it’s only a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Also, don’t finance other people’s dreams, especially if they don’t have the skill set or experience to run a business. Their dream will turn into your nightmare.

Solution: Build your savings for three years and allocate a portion to income-producing securities like low-risk tax-free bonds. Use the “income only” to help out immediate family members, thus holding on to your principles. Also, put yourself on a tight allowance and let it be known that you don’t have instant access to your money. Make the financial adviser the bad guy. If you want to help out your parents, pay down and or pay off their mortgage and get your name on the title. I actually had a client do this, and his parents started taking out home equity loans and ran their debt right back up to the number he paid off. Paying off a mortgage will increase their cash flow. One of the hardest things for young players to do is say no to family.

3. I’ve seen about 70 percent of my clients make loans to friends and families. I’ve also seen very few ever get paid back. Once again, it’s hard for these young men to say no to friends and family.

Solution: Have zero tolerance for loans and don’t ever co-sign for a loan.

4. There’s a perception among the poor and underprivileged that material things such as cars, houses and jewelry represent wealth. Unfortunately, people with these things only have money, but people with investments are the ones who have wealth. I always ask my clients, ”Do you want to be rich or do you want to be wealthy?” Boring investments will make you wealthy. Having material things may make you look and feel rich, but they’re depreciating assets that eventually make you poorer.

Solution: There really isn’t a solution other than education. The need to have material things, such as four cars or $500,000 worth of jewelry, is a learned behavior that can be promoted by a rap video of a flashy investment adviser.

5. Easy come, easy go. If there isn’t a watchdog keeping track of daily spending, then the spending will always gradually increase. Players have a lot of time on their hands in the offseason, and their wives who don’t work, raise kids or volunteer may have even more free time. Idle time often results in spending sprees on home remodels, clothing, vacations, toys and other things that don’t have appreciating values. Simply put, young couples live beyond their means because they don’t exercise discipline. Flying first class, renting private jets and blowing $50,000 in Vegas a few times a year adds up quickly.

Solution: Get rid of the yes people in your life and surround yourself with professionals who aren’t afraid to call you out on your spending habits. Have a strict budget and don’t let yourself exceed it under any circumstances. Many agents and financial advisers don’t have the guts or interest to interfere in the financial affairs of their players because they’re scared they’ll be fired. The ones who do are the ones who really care.

The NFL offers one of the best retirement plans in all of sports. However, a lot of work still needs to be done to educate young men on their fiduciary health and responsibilities. My theory and experience has been that bad habits can be changed, but it’s difficult to do when you’re surrounded by a peer group that’s in the same boat.

Unfortunately, I think I may be writing about this subject once a year.

Follow me on Twitter: jackbechta

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