“5 Things I Wish I Knew About Managing My Finances When I First Started My Career In The NFL” with Mark Vlasic

“Listening to a young teammate look at their first pay check and comment “sales tax will kill you.” Seeing him misinterpret income taxes as sales taxes, it was then that I knew someday I would help others understand their personal finances and how to prudently care for what they have worked so hard to earn.”
Mark Vlasic is a senior wealth advisor at Mariner Wealth Advisors, where he creates personalized financial plans for a wide range of clients, including business owners, corporate executives and high-net-worth individuals and families. Prior to joining Mariner, Mark spent more than seven years as an NFL quarterback with the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, a member of the Financial Planning Association, and maintains life, health and long-term care insurance licenses. Mark has been recognized as a Five Star Wealth Manager by KC Magazine, KC Business and Five Star Professional four times, most recently in 2016.

Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I graduated in 1986 with a degree in finance from the University of Iowa. In April 1987, I was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the NFL draft. I was the 88th player selected.

In 2017, that draft slot would more than likely correlate to a seven-figure signing bonus and $450,000 annual salary, but in 1987 that equated to less than $100,000 signing bonus and league minimum salary. Both were significantly higher than other, non-professional athlete graduates were earning. Plus, I was living a childhood dream to play in the NFL.

My rookie year I was a teammate of Hall of Fame QB Dan Fouts. My first NFL completion was to Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow. I injured my knee during my second season and spent my third season on Injured Reserve watching Jim McMahon run the Chargers’ offense. I rehabbed my knee to earn the starting role for the season opener of my fourth season.

In 1991, through the NFL’s first version of Plan B Free Agency, I signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. With two games remaining and heading to the playoffs, I was named the starting QB to finish the season. After another knee injury, I was back on the sidelines watching — a wakeup call that I was not invincible, and a reminder that I should carefully consider the length of my career and the sustainability of my finances. I remained with the Chiefs as a back-up for the 1992 season, and then Joe Montana arrived in Kansas City in 1993, leading me to sign as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After eight training camps, seven vested seasons, I formally retired from the NFL in January 1995.

NFL careers are short compared to those of non-professional athletes, so when I retired at a relatively early age, I had to quickly learn how to manage finances for my post-NFL lifestyle. This experience caused me to develop a passion to help others protect their hard-earned savings. In February 1995, I entered the world of financial services and never looked back. For the past 23 years, I have proudly served as a financial quarterback helping our clients reach their financial goals and navigate their future.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your NFL career?

Listening to a young teammate look at their first pay check and comment “sales tax will kill you.” Seeing him misinterpret income taxes as sales taxes, it was then that I knew someday I would help others understand their personal finances and how to prudently care for what they have worked so hard to earn.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I volunteered as a City Planning Commissioner, coached several sports, served as the Adult Leader for Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop, serve as the usher for our local Church, and was the Former Chairperson for Children’s Mercy Hospitals & Clinics Planned Giving Council.

What are the 5 things you wish you knew about managing your finances when you first started your career in the NFL?

  1. Transparency — It is key to have open communications, trust and transparency with the advisor managing your money. Seek an advisor who offers full disclosure, weighs in objectively and who you feel puts your best interests first.
  2. Avoid conflicts of interest — Ever heard you shouldn’t mix business with personal? I disagree. I proactively chose not to hire my college roommate as my financial advisor, due to fear of it affecting our relationship. Instead, I originally elected to place my trust in various advisors with whom I had no personal relationship. Some of the investment strategies did not go well, and, in retrospect, I believe there was great potential for conflicts of interest. At the end of my football career, I learned who better to trust than family or friends, knowing they have my best interests at heart? I called my college roommate and engaged him as my financial advisor. (Although, now I utilize my firm’s resources to manage my family’s finances.)
  3. Costs — Be aware of the fees your advisor is charging and be conscious of your personal spending. You should work with your advisor to set an agreed budget to ensure long-term financial sustainability. Also, don’t overlook the nuances of taxes. Taxes can be complicated when you are in the NFL, as you are required to file in each state you play.
  4. Weigh risk and reward — When it comes to managing financial risks, it is hard to turn off the personality trait that delivered successes on the field. As an athlete competing at such a high level, it is natural to be an excessive risk-taker. On the field risks feel comfortable and often don’t even seem risky at all, but rather instinctive. Now, as an advisor making recommendations to clients, my goal is to implement the minimum level of risk warranted that generates positive returns, and still enables clients to attain their lifetime financial objectives.
  5. You are not invincible — Save while you are playing, because a serious injury can be detrimental to your career and your finances.
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