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How Pro Athletes’ Financial Planning Needs Change Over Time

March 3, 2022
Basketball player dunking

The Evolution of Lifetime Wealth Planning for Athletes

As a young athlete signing your first multi-million-dollar contract to play professionally, you may feel like you’ve just received your ticket to easy street. And, in many ways, you have. There are very few people who are able to bring in this amount of money so early in their lifetimes, if ever. That said, it’s not infrequent for professional athletes to end up in financial trouble. In fact, Sports Illustrated once estimated that 78% of NFL players become bankrupt or are under financial stress within two years of retiring from the game, and 60% of NBA players run out of money within five years of retirement.1 So, how can you avoid the same fate? At Creative Planning, we believe the best way is by working with a fiduciary financial advisor who has experience serving the unique needs of professional athletes. This advisor should have an understanding of how your financial needs change over time as you progress through your life and career.

Early career

Congratulations! This is the windfall you’ve been hoping for. You just signed your first professional contract with a salary you’ve long dreamed of — not to mention the signing bonus and sponsorship opportunities that come with becoming a professional athlete. As exciting as this moment is, you will soon feel immense pressure from friends, family members, teammates and even strangers to spend, spend, spend. Everyone you know will want to take part in your newfound riches, and it can be incredibly tempting to immediately start living an extravagant lifestyle. Keep in mind, however, that professional athletes’ careers are typically short. Players have, on average, 3.3 years in the NFL, 4.6 years in the NBA and 5.6 years in the MLB.2 Even with a multi-million-dollar salary, that’s not a lot of time to save enough to last a lifetime. At this early stage in your career, you should be working with a trusted financial advisor who can help you find a balance between enjoying your new lifestyle today and planning for the future. Believe it or not, saving for retirement should be a big part of the conversation. So should investing in a diversified portfolio with an appropriate level of risk, engaging in trust and estate planning for your loved ones, and applying risk management strategies, such as establishing appropriate insurance policies. While it may seem overwhelming to be having these conversations at such an early stage in your career, in the long run, you’ll be glad you did.


As you progress in your career, you will likely want to purchase a home. You may also begin looking for ways to give back to the people and causes that matter most while maximizing your tax benefits. If this is the case for you, you may want to consider establishing a foundation or a donor-advised fund. A qualified financial advisor can advise you on these matters and help maximize your impact while also reducing your tax liabilities.

Unexpected circumstances

As a professional athlete, you put your health and fitness on the line every day in order to compete at the highest possible level. As a result, you’re susceptible to unexpected, and potentially career-ending, injuries. It’s important to make sure your family will be okay should an unexpected event occur. This is where insurance planning comes into play. Your financial advisor can help ensure both you and your family are protected by appropriate life and disability insurance policies.


As you near retirement, you may be plagued with questions about the future, such as:

  • Am I contributing to the right types of accounts in the most efficient manner?
  • Will I be able to support my current lifestyle after my career as a professional athlete is over?
  • What will I do when I’m no longer able to play?
  • Will my family be okay?

Meeting regularly with your qualified financial advisor can help you answer these questions and prepare for life after the game.


Once you have successfully transitioned to retirement following your career as a professional athlete, you may begin to consider your financial legacy. What will you be able to leave to the people and causes that matter most to you? How can you make sure you’re transferring assets in a private and tax-efficient manner? Again, your financial advisor should be able to answer these questions and help you leave a lasting legacy. At Creative Planning Sports and Entertainment, our teams specialize in helping athletes navigate the unique financial challenges of their profession. As a specialty practice of Creative Planning, our experienced team members include Certified Financial Planner™ practitioners, Certified Public Accountants, attorneys, insurance specialists and more. We serve as your partner in navigating the ever-changing financial challenges of your professional and personal life. For more information about how we can help you plan for the future, please schedule a call.


  1. https://theundefeated.com/features/why-do-so-many-pros-go-broke/

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only, should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.


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