TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media app best known for its young users and viral dance videos, is rapidly emerging as a forum for a different kind of moves: What to do with your money.
Search for #personalfinance and you'll find that videos associated with the hashtag have been viewed 4.3 billion times, while #personalfinancetips content has 33 million views. The proliferation of money talk on TikTok, which has about 1 billion monthly users, points to a swelling audience eager for help on how to handle their money.
Just ask Tori Dunlap, a money and career coach who is better known on the app as @herfirst100k. Dunlap, who focuses on helping women take control of their financial lives, joined TikTok last July and has since amassed 1.6 million followers.
"It proved to me that people on TikTok needed this financial advice. I didn't think Gen Z would care, but they do a lot. It proves it's needed in a nonjudgmental, nonshaming way," she told CBS MoneyWatch.
Dunlap, 26, often addresses topics that include why it's smart to start investing early in life, how to pay off debt, and tips for job interviewing. The investing and personal finance fields can seem impenetrable "and one reason why women don't have financial equality and we're left behind is because we haven't been taught these things. Our aim is to translate it into English for everybody, especially women," Dunlap said.
Nicole Victoria, who runs the @nobudgetbabe account with more than half a million followers also wants to empower women in particular to get confident about their finances.
"When it comes to personal finance for women, they're told to stop shopping and spending money on Starbucks. And when it comes to advice to men, they're taught how to invest," Victoria said. "I want people to know that cutting costs is only one piece of it and that you don't have to give up everything you love to get ahead financially."
Large follower counts can also open up new revenue streams for the most popular TikTokers.
Nick Meyer, or @nicktalksmoney, is a 25-year-old certified financial planner with more than half a millions followers on TikTok. He produces educational videos on money and the stock market — on top of his day job as a tax adviser at a small Minnesota-based accounting firm.
TikTok pays him a nominal sum per video view, which is enough money for "about two weeks of groceries," Meyer said. But the real money, he said, comes from brand partnerships, including collaborations with tax preparation software TurboTax and Public.com, a platform that allows members to own fractional shares of stocks. "Once you start getting a bigger following, they become a much bigger thing. Over the past two months, once I reached 100k plus followers, I've gotten a lot of brand deals,"he said.
Meyer's TikTok video earnings now rival what he earns at his day job. Quitting "is probably something I'll be considering in the next couple months," he said.
"An extremely powerful platform"
Delyanne Barros, an attorney and money coach who goes by @delyannethemoneycoach, said she joined the platform to educate individuals like herself who are young, female and Latino — and unaccustomed to learning about investing from their peers. Barros joined TikTok more than a year ago, and knew she was onto something when her follower count quickly increased to more than 180,000.
"I realized this was an extremely powerful platform and that people were hungry for this kind of information, especially younger Gen Zers and Millennials who never found this information elsewhere. No one talked about it with them at work or within their families, and suddenly here it is on TikTok," she said.
Barros' videos have addressed topics ranging from debunking widespread investing myths to explaining the differences between savings accounts. She's also transparent about how much money she earns and spends.
"I teach new investors how to invest in the stock market and I'm about long-term investing, not about meme stocks, day trading or crypto. I'm just trying to teach people what a 401(k) and an IRA is," Barros said. "It's getting back to the foundation of long-term investing, which can be unpopular on TikTok where users are hearing about GameStop and AMC."
"It skews what investing is supposed to be"
Indeed, some of the investing education on TikTok comes from legitimate, well-intentioned creators like Dunlap and Barros, who are either knowledgable money coaches or even certified financial advisers who want to help 20- and 30-somethings learn the fundamentals of investing and managing their money.
But there is a stark divide between these kinds of creators and what critics call unqualified users who are sharing bad financial advice with inexperienced or unsophisticated TikTokers.
Examples include recommendations to invest in individual meme stocks and cryptocurrencies no matter what the investing fundamentals suggest about their elevated prices and risks. Beware any hints that mimicking another individual's investing strategy will also work for you. Caveat emptor, also, any promises to "get rich quick."
"It skews what investing is supposed to be, and some people say, 'Why am I going to invest for 20 years when I can make this amount overnight?'" Barros said.
Dunlap advises investing for the long-term, but recognizes that can be at odds with the kind of content that's most popular on TikTok.
"The definition of investing is to put time, sweat, blood and tears into something for a long time. Investing shouldn't be sexy; it should be consistent and steady over a long period of time," Dunlap said.
"No such thing as cookie-cutter advice"
So how can personal finance newbies differentiate between good and bad guidance?
- Know who you're getting advice from. A quick internet search will likely tell you enough about an individual to indicate whether or not they're qualified to be talking about personal finance. For example, they might hold confirmed credentials like CFP (for certified financial planner), CPA (for certified public accountant) or RIA (registered investment adviser). "Question the source. Do your research on whoever you're taking this education from. You need to figure out if it's something that even could work for your life," Victoria of @nobudgetebabe said.
- Trust your gut. "If someone is saying you can make $1 million in a week, then yeah, it's too good to be true. If your gut tells you something is off about it, that person is probably not to be trusted," Dunlap said.
- Don't act on advice from creators who know nothing about your personal finances. "There is no such thing as cookie-cutter advice which works for John Doe and Jane Smith. It's done on a very case-by-case basis and it depends on a lot of factors," said Jeffrey Feinman, a New York-based CPA and partner at accounting firm DDK & Co. "I would be reluctant to follow advice on TikTok because it is a personalized decision and depends on a lot of factors including current earning power, future earning power, whether you're the beneficiary of a trust, age — all those things."
- Don't expect to learn everything in 60 seconds. Think of a video as an introduction to a topic or concept to explore further. "I hope you're engaging more with that content, and not just saying, 'Ok, cool, I watched the video — I know everything there is to know now," Dunlap said.
- Ignore users who promote so-called "secure uninterrupted compound interest accounts" over 401(k)s and other traditional savings and investment products. "If you've never heard these words before, be suspicious because it's just a name for something else like life insurance that especially young people do not need," Barros said. And Feinman disputed the unfounded claim heard on some TikToks that investing in a 401(k) is a bad idea: "I think the 401(k) is a good vehicle," he said. "I always recommend maxing it out so that, instead of paying taxes, you're using what you saved in taxes to invest in yourself. I don't agree with advice to not do it and put it into these other products instead."
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