Gen Zers are getting financial advice from 'StockTok' on TikTok — but is it harmful or helpful?

Dillon Thompson
·6 min read

“TAX CREDIT FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS.” “STOCK SPLITS EXPLAINED.” “WHAT ARE DIVIDENDS?” “MILLIONAIRE SECRETS.”

If reading these words in succession feels strange or jarring, then you’re probably not on StockTok.

StockTok, also know as FinTok or “Financial TikTok,” is a very particular corner of the country’s fastest-growing social media app. It’s a place where TikTok users — more than half of whom are aged 16 to 24 in the U.S. — come to share, swap and consume financial advice.

Like Alt TikTok, or Skincare TikTok, StockTok is its own sub-community of influencers and content creators, many of whom have millions of young followers. The #StockTok hashtag has been used in more than 115 million videos alone.

Millions of videos means millions of differing opinions. And with TikTok’s mysterious, engagement-focused algorithm, information flows freely — and often without a filter. To some veteran financial advisors, like Dejan Ilijevski, that’s a pretty dangerous way to consume knowledge.

“We know, based on decades of academic research and empirical evidence, what works,” Ilijevski, a fiduciary investment advisor at Sabela Capital Markets, told In The Know. “We know the actions that actually improve the odds of success for investors — and most of the advice you see on TikTok is definitely not that.”

The advice on StockTok varies widely. One video can feel like a microeconomics class, then the next is like a recruiting pitch for a pyramid scheme. As certified financial planner Michael Clark explained, the difference comes down to intention.

“These creators need to understand that although they might be providing entertainment value, we need to make sure it is delivered responsibly and with perspective,” Clark, who runs Ensemble Wealth Management in Southern California, told In The Know.

‘Teach them at a young age’

By Clark’s definition, Rob Shields is not an entertainer. The 22-year-old, who’s amassed 140,000 TikTok followers in the past five months, is objectively entertaining — but his focus is much more serious.

Shields, a college student at The Citadel, regularly uses the word “teach” when describing his page, called Stock Genius. His videos are almost always educational, ranging from how to pay taxes to the history of the stock market.

To Shields, StockTok is a way to share the knowledge he never learned in school. In fact, it’s why he founded Stock Genius in the first place.

The page, which has grown into a full investment advice brand with its own website, was born out of the endless questions Shields was getting from his peers. As Shields got more into investing, everyone from his classmates at The Citadel to his brother Mark started to take notice.

“If I learned it, why not teach it to those who are open to learning too?” Shields said.

Shields’ audience is curious, and notably young. He told In The Know that some of his most loyal followers are as young as 13 or 14.

“To those who are attracted to [it], I think why not teach them at a young age, so that they don’t have to work so hard at an older age,” he told In The Know.

Ilijevski agrees that, when it comes to financial advice, it’s always better to get a head start. Investing is a marathon: The more time someone has to let their portfolio grow, the better off they’ll be.

“Young people, the most powerful commodity that they have is time,” Ilijevski said. “Somebody that’s in their mid-20s has a lot more time to invest and build wealth than someone in their 60s or 70s.”

‘The things that actually help your odds are … boring’

Of course, that opportunity can just as easily become a risk — depending on whose advice you’re taking. StockTok isn’t inherently good or bad, but it has the potential to be both. The trick, Ilijevski says, is avoiding “salesmanship,” or anything that’s framed in a “get rich quick” sort of way.

“The things that actually help your odds are kind of boring,” he said. “You know, they’re more about long-term, more about discipline, more about minimizing costs — and that’s boring, right? It doesn’t sell.”

Ilijevski suggests listening to creators who offer sound, research-based advice, and avoiding anyone who focuses on the short-term. Investing, he added, is rooted in probability, meaning the longer you do it, the more likely you’ll win.

That sort of mentality favors patience, and not the quick-gain stock speculation that so many FinTok influencers focus on. Shields, for his part, does use his page to suggest stocks, but he never suggests taking him at his word alone. In many of his videos, the 22-year-old starts by reminding his followers that he’s “not a professional.”

Shields wants everyone on StockTok — including his own followers — to do their own research, especially when it comes to investing. The 22-year-old gets concerned by some users, who will watch a video on a hot stock pick and just “buy it blankly.”

“Some people don’t do their research — they just listen,” he said. “And it can be scary sometimes because, you know, some people put their whole 401(k) on somebody’s opinion. That’s the negative of StockTok.”

‘[It’s] the place to be’

Not everyone on StockTok is as transparent. For every influencer like Shields, there are dozens more who flout their wealthy, extravagant lifestyles — which, according to them, can only be obtained by following their advice exactly.

Some of these users are extremely young. A few are only teenagers, who, while successful themselves, are selling a path to success that isn’t always replicable.

“The creators that are just pitching ‘hot stocks’ or discuss options contracts really are doing TikTok users an injustice,” Clark, the financial planner, said. “They are trying to deliver the proverbial ‘silver bullet’ on how to make money easy and fast. The reality in the investment world is that is about as probable as becoming a professional sports athlete.”

Those accounts completely undermine creators like Taylor Price. The Gen Z business owner, who has more than 650,000 followers on TikTok, uses her platform strictly to educate other young people.

“By being able to easily communicate and make topics like financial literacy a lot more digestible for my target audience, TikTok is the place to be,” Price told In The Know.

Price originally went viral with a necklace. Commenters started asking how she could afford the jewelry, which made her realize she could share her knowledge online.

A more opportunistic TikToker might’ve suggested a “silver bullet,” but Price stuck to the facts. Her videos are deeply instructional, using skits, music and memes to reel viewers into what she calls “edutainment.”

Just like Shields, Price sees the good and bad in StockTok. For her, it’s been a chance to help young people everywhere improve their financial literacy.

“That’s what’s so special about TikTok,” she said. “You can reach untapped areas that were never tapped into before.”

Clark echoed that sentiment, saying that at its best, StockTok is creating a new vessel for young people to obtain “sound” and “helpful” financial advice — provided they look in the right places.

“TikTok has provided a connection to a generation that would normally not pick up those dusty old financial books or want to take the time to listen to a full audiobook discussing the principles of investing,” he said.

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