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When People Get Rich Quickly: Lessons from Michael Vick’s Bankruptcy

This article was written by in Wealth and Affluence. 16 comments.

A typical professional athlete may be a prime example of the situation in which an individual might find himself suddenly wealthy. The idea that a person could consider himself middle class or lower one day and wealthy the next is a recipe for financial disaster. It’s easy to look at athletes because their trials and tribulations are often front page news. Michael Vick had some problems with the law, but now he’s dealing with financial fall-out. He has declared bankruptcy, and for the first time, the public is getting to see the choices he made with his money.

Vick listened to the wrong people and was perhaps a little gullible and trusting. His seemingly unlimited income gave him the opportunity to spend with zeal. He paid $223,000 a year for dubious financial advice, $78,000 a year for allowances for his family members, and an extra sum of $209,000 for his mother. His obligations included various house payments for his family in addition to the allowances, salaries for his entourage, $10,000 per month on jewelry for a period of 20 months, payments for his own houses (four), boats (five), cars (eight), and horses (unknown).

Gold Bars MoneyAnd then he wasted his money on failed business ventures for which his friends and advisers convinced him to part with more of his money, like a rental car franchise, janitorial operations, a restaurant, and of course the issue that eventually landed him in jail, the dog fighting ring.

The result of all his money missteps was bankruptcy, with a variety of companies staking claim to his future earnings. At least in Vick’s case, he is getting a second chance. With his new contract, and with a new approach to managing his money, he should be able to meet all his financial obligations.

The thought of having a sudden influx of cash, particularly if it puts you in a significantly different financial situation that those who are closest to you, is frightening. Suddenly, friends and strangers might approach you with investment ideas or pleas for help. Many suddenly wealthy individuals are grateful for their situation and want to help others, but responding to these requests can be a quick road to losing everything.

Ron Lieber, columnist for the New York Times, offers a three-pronged approach for people, not just professional athletes, whose financial situation changes significantly, quickly: slow, small, and scrutiny.


Don’t make decisions right away, and keep the money invested safely in cash or bonds from the outset. Don’t give in to the immediate pressure you may receive from friends, family, and strangers looking for investment capital or financial help, even though you may strongly desire to help those closest to you. Decisions made quickly could end up hurting your financial security later, so slow down your approach and resist the temptation to immediately go after investments that promise to pay off handsomely. It’s true that the wealthier you are, the more access you have to potentially lucrative, but complicated, investments, but keeping money invested safely for a while helps you wait until you can make more rational decisions.


The good-hearted among us will want to use newly-acquired wealth, particularly if there is more money available that any one family could use in a lifetime, to make grand gestures with large amounts of money, making the world a better place. The adviser quoted in Lieber’s article points out that many athletes invest in a city only to find out they would be traded to another city the next year. Keeping gestures small would make more sense.

Additionally, if we’ve seen anything from celebrities in Hollywood, there’s often a temptation to use wealth to buy a massive house. Many people, even the wealthy, aren’t prepared for the expenses involved with maintaining a house, particularly if that house is large. There’s always a chance that it proves to be a good investment, if another celebrity makes the risky decision to buy the mansion at a higher price down the road, but there are never any guarantees. In the case of athletes, many become wealthy at a very young age — and they may have never even lived on their own before. The article suggests buying a small home to start, perhaps even a condo.


Shady advisers appear out of the woodwork when there’s money to be made. The article says it’s a good idea to have an adviser, but be very selective. I’ve written a series about selecting and working with financial planners, and weather you’re suddenly wealthy or looking to build wealth over time, the same concepts apply. The most important factor is finding a fee-only financial planner to serve as a fiduciary, which means they are bound to advise in your best interests only. Even this doesn’t prevent an adviser from taking advantage of a client, though.

I would also argue that a good, solid education about basic money management can go a long way in reducing the need for outside “expert” opinions about how to hold or invest your money.

An athlete signing a professional contract, a lucky individual who wins the lottery, or an entrepreneur selling his company to Apple all might have to deal with a sudden influx of wealth. Keep cool and don’t make any sudden moves. Wait before offering any financial help or investment capital to friends, family, and advisers. From a practical point of view, these are likely to be good priorities:

ESPN, New York Times

Published or updated September 16, 2011.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

People who become rich suddenly are inot prepared for all the decisions. They should surround themselves with trusted people to help them keep their wealth. There always stories about famous people getting scammed or losing their wealth due to bad managment.

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avatar 2 lynn

Family members scammed him the most. Can’t trust too many people these days.

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avatar 3 Ceecee

Four houses, five boats and eight cars????? Where is the common sense to know that this is over the top for someone with a career that is known for its short duration and unpredictability.

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avatar 4 lynn

It seems unbelievable, I know. Two houses, 1 boat and a handful of cars would have sufficed!

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avatar 5 tbork84

And I can even argue that all of that is more then sufficient, but you’re absolutely right that he bought excessively.

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avatar 6 shellye

Sports leagues should require all athletes to attend some kind of financial education classes as part of their contracts. Just like they are required to stay in shape physically, they should require the athlete to stay in shape financially.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

THe NFL does provide financial education for their players :

NBA players union has a financial education program :

The NFL player union also has a program where they register financial advisors so they can provide a list of advisers to players who are not crooked.

I don’t know about other prof. leagues but I bet such education is the norm.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

I believe all 4 of the American professional leagues hold what they call a “Rookie Symposium”, in which they try to acclimate the incoming members to the changes that they will be experiencing. It usually covers the financial issues, fitness, community involvement legal issues (ie: not carrying guns, drugs) and basically how to adapt to the high profile status that they have stepped into.

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avatar 9 wylerassociate

The NCAA should teach financial management classes to all its “student athletes”. Shellye, I believe that most professional sports leagues have rookie symposiums that discuss finances, sexual temptations & other things. I think that all professional athletes should be required to read 3 books when they begin their professional careers: 1) wall street journal guide to understanding personal finance, 2) wall street journal guide to understanding money and investing, 3) any book about critical thinking. Athletes need to understand that they have to take care of themselves because EVERYONE will try to take advantage of them and use them for money, food, travel, partying, etc. There’s a reason why so many former pro athletes after retirement end up being broke, divorced & file for bankruptcy.

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avatar 10 tbork84

I agree with you, and think that those three steps you mention should be taught to everyone at a high school level. Wouldn’t including that information in a class that everyone is required to take before graduating make a huge difference in the financial health of every single citizen?

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avatar 11 faithfueledbennetts

While you offer wonderful suggestions on getting rich quick, I would bet most of us will never experience such a gain. Yes, it does seem like people with so much money cannot see past the $$ in their eyes, causing lots of dumb financial moves. Not to mention the target for the packs of wolves waiting to feast on and take advantage of get rich quick people. I guess I can only hope if God so chooses to bless me with a lottery winning, I am wise enough to manage it well & be a good steward. Oh, and if I do ever win the lottery (since my chances of becoming a pro athlete are out the window, being a mom of 2 babies) I will remember my advice on Consumerism Commentary :)

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avatar 12 Donna Freedman

Don’t forget the fourth S, which is a killer: sycophants. Pro athletes tend to have a lot of hangers-on, an entourage or posse that tells the dude what he wants to hear while vacuuming up as many perks as possible.

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avatar 13 Anonymous

How can you seriously recommend putting a year’s expenses in a high yield money market or savings account? They don’t exist and any of the top dividend paying Dow 30 are liquid enough, with electronic trading, to get to the money, if needed. A thirty day supply of expense cash should be adequate in today’s electronically managed financial world.

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avatar 14 Luke Landes

Emergency savings in the stock market? The Dow and other stock indexes are more volatile today than ever. Put your emergency money in the stock market, and you’ll have the risk of it not being there when you need it. The point of savings accounts is that there is no risk to losing the money you need to count on in an emergency. Of course, since it’s not earning any real interest, as little as possible should remain there… But if you lose your job and have to sell stocks to meet your expenses, either you’ll have less money than you would have if you had your money in cash, or you’ll have more, but you’ll also have a higher tax bill due to gains… At a time you may be unemployed and can’t afford the extra tax.

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avatar 15 qixx

I equate suddenly rich to an inheritance. You should treat them both the same. Set aside the funds for at least 6 months or 1 year to get used to your new situation. Win the lottery and you should do the same. Get used to having the funds before you decide what to do with them.

Great post. If you want to learn more about the Michael Vick finance situation then grab the last ESPN magazine from your library. The main article was this.

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avatar 16 Anonymous

It’s funny, I just made a comment on a similar post at Basically a lot of these guys come from humble beginnings, and have been told throughout their lives that they are special and are treated in such a way. Even with education (albeit a very brief symposium) and management, they spend the money on everything they ever wanted when there was none. Many of the future NFL players show up at the live draft decked out in gold and diamonds, wearing Rolexes and custom suits, even before they hear their names called or sign the pro contracts.

On the other end of the spectrum, Giant’s Rookie Prince Amukamara gave this quote when asked about his favorite car:” Man, I used to really like the G Wagon by Mercedes. And I wanted to put Matte Black on it. I never had a car in college. Now, I like preserving gas ‘cause I hate filling the tank up, so I might just get a Prius or something.” Plus, according to Crystal at BITFS, he arrived at the facility on a scooter and went shopping at a used car lot.

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