There is a lot of credit card advice on social media. Knowing how to tell the good from the bad can make all the difference.
Do a search for credit cards advice on Instagram or TikTok and you’re bound to find someone offering financial advice like suggestions for getting out of debt or tips for maximizing credit card rewards. But while there may be some good suggestions, social media is also rife with misinformation, experts say, and not knowing the difference can cost you.
Social media is something of a double-edged sword, says David Almonte, a CPA and member of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants’ (AICPA) National Financial Literacy Commission. “It’s filled with legitimate experts, but there are also troublemakers.”
For people who turn to social media for financial advice, telling one from the other can be the difference between landing a free trip with bonus miles and making a blunder that sinks your credit score.
Gen Z, millennials most trusting of social media-based credit card advice
A CreditCards.com survey earlier this year found that 14% of all adults get financial advice from social media, but among younger generations, the percentage is higher, with 28% of Gen Zers and 24% of millennials doing so.
Likewise, the 2021 Digital Engagement Survey by financial services provider TIAA found that nearly a third of respondents – 32% – said they trust the financial advice of social media influencers and celebrities.
Indeed, social media can be a great way for valid news organizations and nonprofits to disseminate credible information on a host of topics, says Katie Bossler, program quality assurance specialist for credit counseling organization GreenPath. But first, you have to root out the misinformation.
Why financial misinformation is so prevalent
There are a number of reasons why misinformation on social media is so common. For one thing, “all you need is a cell phone and a WiFi connection,” says Justin P. McBrayer, author of Beyond Fake News: Finding the Truth in a World of Misinformation. Social media gives everyone a platform to push their opinions out and the loudest voices are not necessarily the most knowledgeable ones.
Secondly, misinformation often pays. “Electronic media rewards people and companies who get viewer attention,” McBrayer says. “The more attention you get, the more you can charge for ads.” If outrageous claims or get-rich-quick schemes attract eyeballs, there is an incentive to keep promoting them.
Likewise, a person with a financial product such as a course to sell may provide advice people want to hear in order to make more sales, rather than provide advice that’s in someone’s best interest.
Then there are people who share misinformation simply because they are mistaken about the subject matter. For example, someone may tell you applying for a new credit card won’t affect your credit – which is not true – not because they want to mislead you but because they really believe that to be the case. In reality, applying for new lines of credit can cause your score to drop.
How to tell good credit card advice from bad advice
That leaves it up to consumers to separate the good information from the bad. Luckily, there are tactics that make doing so easier.
Look for multiple opinions
Read widely and don’t restrict yourself to just one source of information on social media, suggests McBrayer. As you become more informed, you’ll likely start to see multiple experts touting the same financial principles and it’s easier to notice if someone’s advice comes out of left field.
For example, if an influencer is telling you it’s OK to keep revolving credit card balances while everyone else says it’s best to pay the balances entirely each month be wary of the outlier – or at least do some more research before following their advice. Paying off your entire balance each month will keep you out of debt and may improve your credit score.
At the same time, don’t put much weight on what non-experts say on social media, such as random people replying to a credit card-related post. Not only could the person be unknowledgeable or lying, but they could even be a bot – an automated program designed to appear to be a real social media user.
Check experts’ credentials
Before taking advice from someone on social media, look into their background the same way you would if you were hiring them for their services. Some questions to look into:
- How long have they been in the financial field?
- Do they have licenses or certifications?
- Have they written articles for media organizations or been quoted by journalists?’
“Most certified financial professionals publicly disclose details about their background, services and fee schedule,” says Bossler.
While you’re on social media, do a search of the name to see if other people are talking about the expert. For example, there may be other followers sharing how the expert has helped them – or, on the flip side, someone calling the expert a fraud.
Finally, look for information on the expert outside social media. If they have no website or digital footprint beyond social media, you may want to think twice before taking action on what they say.
Vet influencers’ qualifications
Ask yourself what makes an influencer qualified to provide financial advice – and don’t be fooled by the number of followers they have. “Just because an influencer has thousands of followers does not mean they have been trained or are credentialed,” says Bossler.
Some influencers give advice based on personal experience, but even that information should be vetted since what worked for one person won’t necessarily work for another, Almonte points out.
Also, influencers and celebrities with thousands or even millions of followers can be contracted as paid spokespeople and earn money from advertisers who compensate them for their testimonials and promotions of a financial product, Bossler warns.
One way to determine if an influencer is the real deal is to see if financial organizations have launched joint campaigns with them. “Often, nonprofit organizations will partner with influencers or news outlets to help get the word out to the people most in need,” says Bossler.
For example, Bossler took part in a “Your Money During COVID: Now What?” Instagram Live, where she answered questions on how the pandemic has impacted people’s finances. Similarly, the nonprofit GreenPath Financial Wellness, one of the largest credit counseling agencies in the U.S., recently partnered with influencer Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche to host a “Financial Transformation” virtual conversation about how people can financially recover when the pandemic ends.
Question everyone’s motives
There are individuals and organizations online that may appear to be a legitimate resource but may use predatory tactics or offer “solutions” that may not have your best interest in mind, Bossler says. In other words, they may simply be trying to sell a product.
Before taking their advice or shelling out money for their product, Google them, Bossler says. “Review their LinkedIn profile and research their credentials thoroughly before you proceed.”
Often you can determine if an organization is valid by taking a look at its website. “You can also check if they serve as subject matter experts for legitimate news sources,” Bossler says.
Another place to check is the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to identify credible professionals and organizations with a proven track record of providing credible financial information – and view any complaints, Bossler adds.
That’s not to say you should distrust anyone who is trying to sell a product. You may, in fact, decide you like what the person has to say and want to follow their advice. Just do your due diligence first.
Consider media brands
Media websites like CreditCards.com that have financial information from personal finance journalists and credit card experts typically have a social media presence with links to their articles, as well as other financial advice. If you find the articles on their website helpful and trustworthy, their social media feeds are probably a good source of information as well.
Be on the lookout for scams
Unfortunately, not all misinformation is meant to be harmless. Sometimes it can be indicative of a scam. Be cautious of any organization that asks you to provide personal financial information or money for their services upfront, Bossler says. “You should avoid providing your personal information to an unknown source.
“If the individual or organization does not have a website with verifiable information that is also a red flag,” she adds. If someone on social media pressures you to act fast, consider that a sign something may not be right.
See related: Credit card fraud and ID theft
Think twice before believing outrageous claims
If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. For example, a social media post that claims someone can easily make your credit card debt disappear is likely appealing to your strong desire to get out of debt rather than your logic. If a claim makes you raise your eyebrows or the source does not provide information to back it up, the AICPA recommends doing more research into the source or looking for other experts to corroborate the information.
Since social media is such a fast-moving environment, it can be tempting to act fast on information that is posted and sounds good at the time. However, failing to do your due diligence can be dangerous to your credit score and your financial bottom line. “Bad advice is much more costly than good advice,” Almonte says.