College athletes tackle their financial future

Former student /athletes go on the road to show their college counterparts how to avoid making the same financial mistakes they did.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The baton has been passed.

Track-team member Chris Spivey was ready to take the advice and run with it when a group of former college and pro athletes spoke at the University of Hartford recently about the basics of financial planning.

As a senior computer-engineering major, he's starting to look at job options and contemplate life after college, and he's planning to keep the "Playbook for Life" handy. The 25-page primer that he picked up at the event - with tips on everything from budgeting to financing a home or car purchase - was put together by The Hartford, a financial services company partnering with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Its simple format sprinkles in sports metaphors - comparing budgets to training stats, for instance - to appeal to student athletes who are already sweating out schedules packed with classes, practices, and competitions.

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For Mr. Spivey, what resonated most were the admonitions to start saving early and to avoid expensive credit-card debt - two main points covered by Allen Pinkett, a Notre Dame graduate who spent seven years in the NFL and is now captain of the group of visiting speakers known as "Team Hartford."

"I see a lot of fellow classmates and athletes with credit cards, and they're saying this is the easy thing to do, just use your credit card, pay later, you don't have to worry about it," Spivey says. "I was thinking about getting one ... but I decided, hey, I'm going to sit back for a while."

A survey last winter of 1,000 students on NCAA teams found that 75 percent wished they'd been given more information about financial planning. Athletes tend to be leaders on campus, Pinkett says, "so being able to provide them with this information also gives an entree to the other students."

Unless they're raking in endorsements, student athletes don't require financial advice any more than their classmates do. This event is just one example of the many services tailored to student athletes, partly because "you can identify [these students] and create opportunities to get to them through their athletic departments," says Peter Roby, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.

If her softball coach hadn't told the team to attend the Playbook for Life event, junior Nikki Thompson probably wouldn't have been there for the 1-1/2 hour session on a Wednesday night. "A lot of the athletes don't really think about these things because we're more focused on what we have to do now, day to day, rather than our financial situations after school," she says. "But it really helped because it made you look at the big picture."

Afterward, she and her roommates (fellow softball players), talked over the idea of buying a home after college rather than spending a lot of money on rent - advice doled out by Jennifer Rizzotti, a former basketball star and now a coach at Hartford. "We heard about her real-life experiences that she could relate to us because she was in our shoes," Ms. Thompson says.

Although Thompson is a business major, she just doesn't have time yet for a job, so her parents send her money when she needs it.

As she starts to look at internships and think about future jobs, she says she learned that it's important to consider benefits, not just salary offers. And the speakers gave her confidence that the hard work and responsibility she's demonstrated on the softball diamond will make her a strong candidate in the job market.

Pinkett says students can relate to his advice because he's helping them avoid the mistakes he made in his youth, whether it was living without a written budget or making investments that weren't well researched. "I'm going on 20 years being out of school, but I think the only thing that's changed with the student athletes now is that they have tattoos," he jokes.

At every campus he visits, he hears interesting questions. A student at Rice University in Houston asked whether a negative balance in a checking account would show up on a credit report.

The short answer: Yes.

But rather than discourage students from dreaming big (36 percent said they expect to become millionaires), Pinkett simply touts the small steps they can take now, even when they complain they have no money.

"Yeah, we all want to be rich," he says, "but [we need] a plan to get there."

'Playbook for Life' speakers will visit St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia Oct. 4 and campuses in St. Louis and Seattle in November. Tips and personal-finance tools are available on their website, www.playbook.thehartford.com.

21% of Division I male athletes want to turn pro.

1% of college athletes go on to play at the professional level.

36% of college athletes expect to become a millionaire in their lifetime - not necessarily through athletics.

72% of college athletes expect to owe student loan debt when they graduate.

47% of athletes expect to carry credit-card debt upon graduation.

60% of college athletes have begun planning their financial future.

32% of volleyball players use a financial adviser.

16% of football players use an adviser.

Source: The Hartford Financial Game Plan Survey

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