A new study says that 16 percent of NFL players will go broke within 12 years of retirement. The findings are markedly different from a 2009 study that put the number at 78 percent just two years after retirement.
“Players with median-length careers earn about $3.2 million in a few years. If they are forward-looking and patient, they should save a large fraction of their income to provide for when they retire from the NFL,” Kyle Carlson, Joshua Kim, Annamaria Lusardi and Colin F. Camerer wrote in a working paper released this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
But the researchers, who analyzed data on 2,000 players drafted between 1996-2003 alongside earnings data (available for some 900 players) and bankruptcy court records, found that 15.7 percent file for bankruptcy within 12 years of retirement. Career length or earnings made little difference.
“Having played for a long time and having been a successful and well-paid player does not provide much protection against the risk of going bankrupt,” the authors noted.
Researchers were interested in testing the theory of consumption smoothing, which says that people will save more when they earn more to cover future expenses when their income will be lower. NFL players offer an extreme example to the contrary.
"We've known that it can be very difficult for the average family to save," Camerer said. "But this is one group that you might think ought to be able to avoid bankruptcy. They're in a position to buy some good advice if they need it. But even for them, with all these millions, it's a challenge."