Personal Finance

NFLers aren't only ones with short careers: How early retirees get $$ advice

Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Bradie James tackles Washington Redskins running back Rock Cartwright November 22, 2009.
Jessica Rinaldi | Reuters

When Bradie James, a former NFL linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, retired from football, he found himself facing a new career challenge: what to do after a 10-year athletic career?

Retirement at any age is a life-changing transition. For people who have careers with short spans, it can be very difficult, regardless if they made millions or have a pension waiting for them.

"A lot of us are CEOs of our own brand and our own companies," James said. "As a player, you're basically your own company. When it comes to business, you feel like you can handle it. That's where some of the pitfalls come in."g

More companies offer cash for getting money-smart

To handle the challenge of retirement, more companies are offering financial wellness programs to their employees. According to the 2015 Workplace Benefits Report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, budgeting aid is now offered at 40 percent of companies, up from 21 percent in 2013. Forty-three percent of employers offer debt management help, up from 22 percent. Nine in 10 companies said they expect financial wellness to become a "standard element" benefit.

"The only thing I knew about money when I was 22 years old was that I didn't have any," said Mark Doman, CEO of investment advisory firm Doman Group. "I wasn't even thinking about this kind of stuff. I had to go to grad school to learn it. Imagine being 22 years old and an NFL draft pick. Imagine if you don't end up earning a second contract, which statistically it shows you won't. Imagine your first paycheck will be the biggest paycheck you'll ever earn."

Doman's company focuses on high-net worth individuals, including athletes and entertainers. Most of these people retire before age 35. He said the current generation of clients is more interested in financial planning courses.

Doman even offers internships in his New York office for athletes to learn more about financial planning through the lens of their own finances. Philadelphia Eagles' running back Ryan Mathews as well as NaVorro Bowman from the San Francisco 49ers have gone through his program.

"(Millennials) certainly are much more enthusiastic about learning," Doman said. "There's been enough about of these sad stories in the press, these very talented young men and women who earned a king's ransom and blew it. That and access to information has made more people interested in learning."

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James was lucky because he had owned Mooyah Burgers, Fries and Shakes franchises while he was a player. After retirement, he got offers to come to the corporate side of the company, and is now the director of brand engagement for Mooyah.

"When you're playing a lot of it is they want you to focus on playing football, but it's a delicate balance when we all have an expiration date," James said.

This year, James was a mentor and panelist at the NFL Business Academy, one of the league's initiatives to help players with career and professional development including financial planning. Over the last few years, the NFL has added several initiatives to educate players on financial readiness. In addition to the NFL Business Academy, which was held in partnership with University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, it also holds the NFL Personal Finance Camp in partnership with the University of Miami and TD Ameritrade. It also has a partnership with Money Management International to provide one-on-one assistance and online education tools.

These multiday classes teach about budgeting, managing credit, saving and investing for the future. There's an emphasis on "generational wealth," or how to make sure large paydays can go past one player's lifetime and help support future generations. Costs are covered under the Tuition Assistance Program, which is part of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the NFL Players Association.

Charles Way, vice president of player engagement for the NFL, pointed out that while other students could take internships or gain work experience for their future careers during the summer, he was focused on preparing for an NFL career.

"I went to the University of Virginia, graduated with a civil engineering degree, and I wasn't ready from the transition from to the field — and I went right into the front office," said Way, who played fullback for the New York Giants for five seasons. "It took me a year to understand how to communicate properly and in an efficient manner. I think that's everybody from college. The thing is professional athletes, we don't have the same opportunities as college grads do."

Jiri Crowder, chief of airman and family readiness policy for the Air Force, said that four years ago the Air Force found through internal surveys that the average millennial airman was entering the service with high credit-card debt at an early age. Being in debt can limit top-level clearance and prevent advancement in one's career, Crowder said.

Since the 1990s, the Air Force has mandated a two-hour budgeting course during basic training, as well as a four-to-six hour class on more in-depth budgeting once servicemen and servicewomen get to their first duty station. In 2011, Congress mandated that every military member about to retire take another budgeting program where they submit an actual budget for post-retirement life in order to combat military homelessness.

"In the military we emphasize readiness," Crowder said. "We have to prepare our airmen to be fight-fit ready. We can't have an airman who is so stressed out about money deployed and worried about his financial situation. We focus on a whole person concept, and finance is a part of that."

There have been 4,300 financial planning workshops this year and 52,000 Air Force members have attended. In addition, 43,900 servicemen and servicewomen have used in-office financial planning counseling.

To help millennials especially, it got rid of paper handouts, instead pointing employees to online resources. It's added more courses that are millennial-friendly, including how to using savings apps and deal with generational issues around wealth.

"We focus on having them make purchases on their needs instead of their wants, and having good financial decisions about those wants and needs," Crowder said.

Justin McCurry with family on vacation in Mexico.
How I retired at 33 and so can you

That doesn't mean that all early retirement careers, whose employees may be in more need of these kinds of courses, are adding those benefits. Doman pointed out that among the four major U.S. sports leagues, in his experience the NFL was by far the leader in providing financial planning assistance and courses and not the norm.

For other early retirement careers like ballet, financial planning benefits are even more scare. The Guardian reported that the average age for retirement for dancers is around 40. Yet, as The Atlantic pointed out, typically dance companies do not offer retirement planning benefits. The New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre did not respond to requests for comment.

Nonprofit Career Transition for Dancers offers free financial wellness, financial planning and career transition services for ballet dancers. It recently joined forces with the larger Actors Fund after seeing increased demand for services among this generation.

Even companies that offer financial planning benefits, while these courses have the potential to help employees, it's also important to note that they're only a few days or hours. Even those involved understand these classes are only an introduction — and also double up as a way to promote positive public image of these careers. With much negative press out there of athletes blowing millions to end up broke or even military members ending up on the streets, the public relations handiwork can be beneficial.

"(Positive image of military members is) part of it," Crowder admitted. "We wouldn't try so hard to transition our members. Transition was not always mandatory, and we didn't always do it."

Patrick Kerney, a former NFL defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks who is now director of business development at National Fire & Casualty Investments, believes it's more than public image.

"Obviously there is the PR standpoint, but there's also a sincere caring," Kerney said. "There's a lot of people who want to see all of these young men translate this unbelievable opportunity (of playing football) into something that lasts for us and our families."