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How do athletes prepare for their unique financial challenges? © jygallery / Getty
May 30, 2017

How do athletes prepare for their unique financial challenges?

For most of us, the financial challenges we encounter in life are spread over the span of years that we work. But what do you do when your career may last only 15 years? How about seven years, or even three?

While nonathletes convert their income from work into financial capital over a long horizon, athletes must execute this same move over the course of a dramatically shorter career. From our experience, a typical executive might have a 30- or 40-year career and grow his or her wealth slowly over time. In contrast, the financial challenges most individuals experience in their 50s, 60s or 70s are challenges we’ve seen professional athletes face at a much earlier stage of their lives.

By a definition we use, risk can be defined as a permanent loss of capital that impacts a person’s ability to live his or her desired lifestyle; a more concise term here is “lifestyle risk.” Most individuals, therefore, deal with lifestyle risk.

Given this definition, most individuals will ask themselves at some point, “How do I maintain my current lifestyle once my career ends and the paychecks stop?” After speaking and working with professional athletes for a number of years, we’ve noted three challenges that these sports figures commonly share: sudden wealth at a young age, a statistically short career and 50-plus years of “retirement.”

SUDDEN WEALTH AT A YOUNG AGE

When an amateur athlete decides to sign professionally, there is often a sense of instantaneous wealth. Coming from living off a college scholarship or minor league salary makes that initial signing-bonus check seem significant; unfortunately, that impression is somewhat misleading. After taxes and fees, what seemed like such a large amount of capital may potentially be cut by more than half.

STATISTICALLY SHORT CAREERS

If a room of individuals were asked, “With a show of hands, how many of you think you are a good driver?”, typically the response would likely be an overwhelming majority of hands raised.

A similar question, but this time asked of a roomful of athletes, might be: “With a show of hands, how many of you think you will have a longer-than-average career?” And, again, you would likely have a room filled with raised hands.

Sure, optimism is great, but when it fuels a sense of invincibility, problems may arise. For athletes, this sense of invincibility may lead them to believe that the contracts and associated lifestyle they’ve enjoyed will continue forever, when in reality the average career length in sports is dramatically shorter. And, depending on the sport involved, it could even be less than three years.

What do you do when your career may last only 15 years? How about seven years, or even three?

FIFTY-PLUS YEARS OF RETIREMENT

When you begin a career between the ages of 18 and 24 and have an average career length of three to five years, you need to prepare for 50-plus years of retirement. This is compared to 20-plus years of retirement that nonathletes typically experience.

Most of the retirement benefits from the major professional sports leagues cannot be accessed until at least the age of 60, though most athletes retire before the age of 30. This gap between retirement and the point at which league benefits commence is a major concern in the “lifestyle risk” conversation that needs to be addressed from the beginning.

Professional athletes face a number of financial challenges. Playing professionally is a business, and as with any business, it can come and go whether those athletes like it or not. The importance of taking the necessary steps to plan for an uncertain future is critical in trying to protect against “lifestyle risk” and prepare for life after sports.

Nearly every coach has preached at some point, “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.” This holds true both in and out of the competitive arena. It is critical that athletes take an active role in selecting their professional team of advisors, and continue to be involved throughout their careers and beyond.

If you are an athlete, coach, family member or professional that works with athletes, it is therefore never too early to take action.

This article was written by Greg Merrill, CFP®, Financial Advisor, Courtesy of Thomas Mantione and Andrew Shantz.

Andrew Shantz and Thomas Mantione are financial advisors with UBS Financial Services Inc. in 750 Washington Blvd., Stamford, CT 06901. UBS Financial Services Inc. Financial Advisors engage Worth to feature this article. In providing wealth management services to clients, we offer both investment advisory and brokerage services which are separate and distinct and differ in material ways. For information, including the different laws and contracts that govern, visit ubs. com/workingwithus. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors. UBS Financial Services Inc., its affiliates and its employees are not in the business of providing tax or legal advice. Clients should seek advice based on their particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and may not necessarily reflect the views of UBS Financial Services Inc. UBS Financial Services Inc. is a subsidiary of UBS AG. Member FINRA/SIPC.

This article was originally published in the May–July 2017 issue of Worth.

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