Personal Finance Strategies for Student-Athletes

ByNathan Paulus
Edited byMegan Hull

Updated: March 15, 2024

ByNathan Paulus
Edited byMegan Hull

Updated: March 15, 2024

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

Student-athletes face unique financial opportunities and challenges, such as managing scholarship funds, setting aside money from part-time employment and getting ready for a career in athletics. Learning to manage your personal finances and plan for the future is as crucial as physical training — it can help you excel in your sports endeavors and secure a stable and prosperous future.

KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR STUDENT-ATHLETES
  • Scholarships can assist student-athletes in covering educational and living expenses. On average, NCAA Divisions I and II schools provide over $3.6 billion in athletics scholarships annually to more than 180,000 students.
  • Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rights empower student-athletes to earn from their personal brand and can be a significant financial opportunity.
  • Student-athletes must comply with NCAA regulations for responsible capitalization.

Source: National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

Why Financial Planning Is Crucial for Student-Athletes

Student-athletes face distinct financial circumstances compared to their peers, ranging from scholarship dependencies and time constraints to the uncertainties of professional sports careers. Early and tailored financial planning can help you prepare for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in your athletic and post-athletic careers:

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    Managing scholarships strategically

    Utilize financial planning to understand and manage scholarship terms. Develop a backup plan to protect against the loss of scholarship due to performance issues or injuries, ensuring uninterrupted education funding. Familiarize yourself with the details of your scholarships, including coverage, retention conditions and tax implications.

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    Balancing time and income

    Leverage financial planning to maximize your income potential within a limited time. Create a budget tailored to your athletic and academic commitments, considering all income sources and expenses. Consider part-time work during off-seasons for additional income and valuable experience.

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    Preparing for career uncertainty

    Building a solid financial foundation can help you navigate the unpredictability of a sports career. Save consistently, invest wisely and plan for income variations to ensure long-term stability. Emphasize saving early — whether aside a portion of your stipend or starting an emergency fund — to benefit from compound interest and secure your financial future.

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    Navigating NCAA regulations

    For those in NCAA-regulated sports, there are strict rules regarding compensation and endorsements, which can limit your ability to monetize your skills and reputation during your college years. Stay informed about NCAA rules regarding earnings and financial conduct. It's important that your jobs, investments or endorsements comply with these guidelines so you can maintain your eligibility.

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    Prioritizing financial education for wealth management

    You can better prepare to manage your wealth with financial education. Enhance your financial literacy through workshops, courses or consulting advisors. Focusing on learning key financial principles, including budgeting, saving, investing and understanding taxes, can help set you up for financial success in the long run.

Navigating Scholarships for Student-Athletes

Scholarships and grants can significantly ease the financial burden of school for student-athletes. Start the application process early — ideally 18 to 24 months before university entry — to increase your chances of securing scholarships.

Sports Scholarships for Student-Athletes

Student-athletes can explore a range of scholarships, including grants from the NCAA, private entities, high school athletic associations and community organizations.

NCAA Division I

In NCAA Division I, athletes may receive full-ride scholarships that cover all college expenses, including tuition, room, board and sometimes additional costs. These full-ride scholarships are more common in high-profile sports with larger budgets, such as football and basketball. In contrast, sports classified as "equivalency" typically offer partial scholarships, allowing coaches to distribute funds among several athletes. The amount and availability of these scholarships can vary significantly, often depending on the school's budget and the athlete's talent and potential.

NCAA Division II

NCAA Division II schools typically offer partial scholarships that cover a portion of college costs, distributing these across a larger pool of athletes than Division I. Some institutions may provide a mix of financial support that acknowledges athletic prowess and academic achievement. Similar to the "equivalency" sports in NCAA Division I, these scholarships don't typically cover all college costs, and the amount can vary significantly based on the program's budget, the athlete's ability and the school's interest in the athlete.

NCAA Division III

NCAA Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships but provide various other financial aid options. These aids include academic scholarships, grants and general financial aid, which are accessible to student-athletes based on academic merits, financial need and other criteria.

NAIA

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) offers full and partial scholarships, similar to NCAA Divisions I and II, but typically at smaller colleges focused on student-athlete development. NAIA scholarships provide various levels of financial support, accommodating the diverse needs of athletes. These scholarships allow students to pursue their athletic and academic goals in supportive environments. Like NCAA scholarships, NAIA's financial aid ranges from full to partial, tailored to the student's needs and situations.

NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association)

The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) offers athletic scholarships at junior and community colleges, with options ranging from full to partial coverage. These scholarships are particularly beneficial for athletes seeking to enhance their skills and academics before moving to four-year institutions. The NJCAA's scholarships are designed to support athletes during their initial college years, providing a foundation for those planning to transition to other programs.

Other Sport-Specific Scholarships

Various organizations, associations and private entities offer sport-specific scholarships beyond the traditional college athletic associations. These scholarships are tailored to athletes in particular sports. They may consider factors such as performance, potential, academic achievement or financial need. They provide additional avenues for athletes to receive financial aid, often acknowledging athletes' dedication, talent and community involvement. Use the NCSA's Athletic Scholarship search tool to find college athletic scholarships based on the sports you play.

Managing Scholarship Funds

Efficient use of scholarship funds can significantly reduce the amount of student loan athletes need, diminishing the financial burden post-college life can impose. Consider the following strategies to maximize scholarship benefits and ensure responsible fund management:

1
Prioritize educational expenses

Direct your scholarship funds toward tuition, books, housing and other academic costs, ensuring your educational expenses are prioritized and fully met.

2
Create a dedicated scholarship account

Set up a dedicated account for scholarship money to simplify spending tracking and differentiate it from personal funds.

3
Save any surplus

If your scholarship exceeds immediate costs, save the extra as a safety net for unexpected expenses or future savings.

Navigating Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) Opportunities

Name, Image and Likeness or NIL rights allow student-athletes to monetize their personal brand through endorsements and business ventures while retaining college eligibility. These opportunities, ranging from sponsorships to social media endorsements, offer a new revenue stream apart from direct pay for sports or school attendance. Student-athletes must report all NIL activities to their institution to remain compliant and informed about related state laws and institutional rules.

Ways student-athletes can leverage NIL rights include:

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    Sponsorship deals

    Student-athletes can now engage with brands as ambassadors through endorsement deals, using their visibility for marketing.

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    Social media and brand endorsements

    Student-athletes can monetize their online presence by endorsing products, participating in advertising campaigns and making appearances.

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    Merchandise sales

    Student-athletes can capitalize on their personal brand by designing and selling branded apparel and accessories, turning their popularity into a profitable venture.

Managing NIL Opportunities

Although it’s tempting to focus only on the immediate financial gains, it's also important to consider how NIL contracts could impact your future career and long-term endorsements. What might seem profitable in the short term may not fit your broader goals and brand. With careful navigation and compliance, you can harness your name, image and likeness for significant personal and financial development.

1
Understand the full scope of NIL contracts

Before signing anything, fully understand NIL contract stipulations, including any commitments and potential conflicts of interest. Missteps can lead to penalties, lost income and strained sponsor relationships.

2
Craft your personal brand

Build a compelling narrative around your persona. A strong public image can attract lucrative NIL deals, even if you're not a star player. Engage in activities that enhance your visibility and reputation.

3
Find your niche market

Connect with niche markets interested in your sport, team or personality. Consider joining a marketplace that matches student-athletes with companies looking for endorsements. Be mindful of marketplaces that charge fees, and evaluate whether the benefits justify the cost.

4
Seek professional guidance

Consulting with a trusted attorney or a reputable sports agent can prevent costly errors and maximize earnings. Explore educational resources like the NIL Long Game, which offers Financial Literacy Certification for college athletes to navigate NIL rules and financial management effectively. You can also download the Club NILlionaire app, which can assist in tracking NIL sponsorship opportunities and analyzing contracts, serving as your digital NIL business manager.

5
Vet your agent

A reputable agent can be instrumental in securing beneficial NIL deals. Investigate potential agents thoroughly, ask about their client list and success stories and seek direct feedback from their other clients. Remember, an agent's job is to advocate for you and differentiate you in the market.

6
Understand taxes and fees

Familiarize yourself with the financial obligations that come with NIL deals, including taxes and any fees owed to agents or schools. Professional advice from accountants or wealth managers might be necessary to manage larger earnings responsibly.

Planning for an Athletic Career

When planning your finances, extend your vision beyond college years and consider your long-term financial future, including potential career paths and earnings. Recognize that an athlete's career path may significantly differ from other professions, as it is often marked by unique uncertainties and income fluctuations. With this awareness, you can develop financial strategies tailored to these nuances. Consider the following key steps to ensure you're on the right path to financially prepare for your athletic career.

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    Secure robust health insurance

    Securing comprehensive student health insurance is non-negotiable for athletes because of the physical demands and risks associated with sports. Look for plans that provide extensive coverage, and make sure you understand all the policy details, such as premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. Choose a policy that aligns with your financial capability and health needs. If you're under 26, consider staying on a parent's plan or look into private health insurance plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace if you're older.

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    Learn tax strategies

    As you move into higher-earning roles, it's important that you understand how to manage and plan for taxes. Learn how to navigate different tax brackets and employ strategies to maximize your income and savings. Understand state tax obligations, particularly for traveling athletes. Early knowledge of tax planning allows for smarter investments and financial choices, laying a strong foundation for future wealth and stability.

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    Develop sustainable investment strategies

    Tailor your investment plan to include long-term options and assess your risk tolerance. Understand the level of investment you're comfortable with and equip yourself with knowledge before diving into investments. Consider consulting an expert to help evaluate opportunities and craft a strategy that fits your goals.

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    Plan for retirement early

    Consider the concept of "double retirement," where you may retire from sports and then again from a subsequent career. Account for this in your retirement planning to ensure you maintain stable finances beyond your sporting life. Maximize contributions to tax-advantaged accounts such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or 401(k)s, and consider low-cost index funds for long-term growth. Regularly review and adjust your retirement strategy to reflect any changes in your needs or the market.

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    Consult a financial advisor

    A specialized financial advisor can offer tailored advice and help manage risks, ensuring your finances are in good hands. Look for a financial advisor with experience assisting athletes. Even after delegating the management of your finances, stay involved and informed about your financial decisions to maintain control over your financial future.

Additional Resources

MoneyGeek compiled a list of resources to help student-athletes manage finances and plan for athletic careers:

About Nathan Paulus


Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.


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