Tori Dunlap joined TikTok in March 2020 for the same reason that most people do: To watch quick-fire videos of people dancing, lip-synching and telling jokes.
It wasn't until mid-July that Dunlap, the 26-year-old founder of Her First $100K, a money and career website, created her first personal finance TikTok video on why you should have a high-yield savings account. Soon afterward, things started to take off.
Within a couple weeks, she landed her first viral video, which called out the myth that you won't be able to afford a house if you buy lattes every day.
Now she has over 800,000 followers.
Dunlap, who notes on her website that she is not a licensed financial adviser, says her parents taught her a lot about money growing up, but she quickly realized that wasn't the case for everyone, especially for women.
"Having a financial education as women or any marginalized group is our best form of protest and is our best way of gaining agency in a world that is increasingly inequitable," Dunlap said.
And TikTok, she said, is leading the way in enabling a younger, more diverse group of people to both provide and gain access to this education.
Finance has long been seen as a white, male-dominated industry. A 2019 survey by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards found that 77% of all financial planners are male, while 72% are over the age of 40.
But many personal finance TikTok creators are bringing diversity and relatability to conversations about money for young people.
When it comes to the apps' thriving personal finance community, most of the faces dolling out financial advice are new -- and many of them are women and people of color.
"Women, people of color and young investors are traditionally underserved segments of the investing public, so it's natural for them to turn to non-traditional sources of financial advice," said Lisa Kramer, professor of finance at the University of Toronto. "If a TikTok video encourages someone to start planning and investing for the future, that's a win."
A new generation seeking personal finance advice
Personal finance TikTok has become a wildly popular destination for Gen Z'ers and Millennials looking for money advice.
The hashtag #personalfinance alone has a total of 4 billion video views, with #finance trailing behind with 2 billion. Other finance-related hashtags, like #financialiteracy, #financetiktok, #finances and #finance101, have a total of roughly 427 million video views combined.
So whether you're curious about how to crush credit card debt, getting started investing or stashing away cash for an emergency savings fund -- sure enough, with a simple search, there's a TikTok for that.
So what's with the sudden fixation with personal finance?
The pandemic may have something to do with it.
"It has made people acutely aware of the risk of unforeseen disasters," said Matt Kasman, assistant research director at the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think-tank. "It's increased motivation from all people who lived through it, but certainly younger people to become motivated to save a nest egg or reserves of cash."
Taking the taboo out of money talk
Talking about money with other people has long been considered taboo. But on TikTok, those taboos don't seem to exist.
In a number of videos on the app, some of which have gone viral, TikTokers are talking about their salaries, how much they pay for things and how much debt they owe -- all down to the cents.
One popular personal finance TikTok involves an attorney breaking down how much of her $180,000 salary she actually took home while living in New York. In the video, she provides a real-life snapshot factoring in actual amounts for taxes, rent, bills, health insurance and 401(k) contributions.
"Finance is often a fraught topic space. For one thing, it's traditionally been seen as taboo. It's also anxiety-producing for a number of other reasons, it's high stakes and can be seen as complicated," said Kasman. "Anything that makes it accessible, fun, and takes away from some of the anxiety and some of the taboos is a good thing and should be a goal in any setting or format that seeks to do effective financial education. It's one that I think these new platforms excel at."
"When I started understanding that you could become financially independent really early in life and you can totally change the way your life is going to unfold, it completely changed my mindset," she said.
Barros didn't grow up receiving much financial advice from her parents except for two things: to get an education and have good credit.
As a former attorney turned full-time entrepreneur, Barros' quest for financial independence began with a desire to pay off debt as quickly as possible -- $150,000 worth of student loans to be exact. And there was a lot of trial and error along the way.
"It's a subject that we do not talk about, even with family, even with friends," said Barros. "We're noticing the advice that our parents and our grandparents gave us no longer applies."
Barros, who is not a licensed financial adviser, now boasts nearly 183,000 followers on TikTok and attributes much of her success to her vulnerability around her finances on the video-sharing app.
"Here was this person on the Internet laying out all of her business and people were really attracted to it," she said, referring to her videos. "I started seeing there's a need here for people to learn about this stuff, there are gaps to be filled, so I took it upon myself to learn everything I could about the subject."
Bridging the gap of financial literacy
Errol Coleman, 22, is one of many creators teaching newly-minted day traders about the stock market.
With nearly 263,000 followers, more than 7,500 YouTube subscribers and 20,000 members on Discord, Coleman shares TikTok videos spanning underrated and free stock market resources and other concepts like how to find your own stocks and understanding stock resistance and risk.
Coleman, who is not a licensed financial adviser, was first introduced to the basics of the stock market as a senior in high school.
"When I first got into the market, I thought it was such a good opportunity. I couldn't believe that more people weren't talking about it," he said.
He's since made it his mission to learn as much as he can about trading and investing in order to inspire and educate other young people.
And the response has been positive, especially from other TikTokers of color. Coleman recalls a comment he received from another Black male on one of his videos: 'You don't know what it means that someone that looks like me is doing this.'
"It just made me realize that not many people grew up with just knowing about opportunity," Coleman said. "I want to put this type of opportunity in front of people and show them the basics and that it's actually not that complicated."
But it's not all good financial advice
While TikTok is filled with financial advice and content, not all of it is beneficial and accurate.
"There are drawbacks to these new formats. The con is the quality or accuracy, might vary," Kasman said. "Since they're short format and often engaged in a la carte they also might not be really good at scaffolding, which is kind of building up the foundational skills before putting one foot in front of the other."
It's also the reason why creators like Barros, Dunlap and Coleman caution their followers to do their own research and learn more about the concepts they share in videos.
Personal finance is personal and it isn't one-size fits all.
That's why Kasman stresses the importance of ensuring you have the foundational skills and core financial concepts, such as tracking expenses and budgeting, mastered.
"This can help people adjudicate between good information and bad information, what's applicable to their circumstances and what's not, with what they encounter on new platforms," he said.
Additional reporting by Sofia Barrett