5 Steps to Weed Out Instagram Ad Scams

Holiday shoppers, prepare to be bombarded with social media ads — and scams.

Highly targeted advertising on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook makes it easier than ever for brands to get in front of their target market. But these ads also make it easier for shady brands to dupe eager scrollers and shoppers with glossy images, only to deliver low-quality goods or nothing at all.

Scams originating on social media have skyrocketed in recent years. According to data from the Federal Trade Commission, complaints of fraud that started on social media jumped from nearly 28,900 in 2019 to more than 71,500 in 2020. And that figure is on pace to double again in 2021, with nearly 76,000 reports of social media fraud filed in the first half of this year, resulting in $292 million lost by consumers.

“While these advertising platforms try to weed out obvious bad actors via their automated algorithms, it is literally impossible for them to fully protect end consumers from sketchy companies,” says Oleg Donets, co-founder and chief marketing officer for Real Estate Bees, a marketing platform for the real estate industry. “Most of the time, the responsibility of vetting advertisers falls on the shoulders of end customers.”

But how do you know which brands to trust? These five steps will help you separate the gems from the fakes.

1. Search for independent reviews, complaints

Reviews on a company’s website can be cherry-picked, or worse, completely fabricated. So look for customer feedback on independent sites, like Trustpilot and Google My Business, and search for complaints on the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker.

You can also tap friends, family and your broader social network for insight. They’ve likely been served the same ads as you, and odds are good that someone pulled the trigger and can tell you if the product is as advertised.

“I have friends who have had success ordering clothing via [Instagram] ads, so I go to them for recommendations on which brands they trust,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert based in Bakersfield, California.

Not finding any reviews? Consider that a red flag.

2. Research the domain history

One clue to a business’s legitimacy is how long its website has been around. To find out when a website was created, simply plug the URL into the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ lookup tool.

Sketchy companies pop up and disappear faster than the moles in the arcade game, creating a new domain name every time they resurface, so be wary of any sites created in the past year. Companies with an established web presence are more likely to be legitimate, but you’ll still want to check reviews and return policies.

3. Test out customer support

Take the brand’s customer service on a test drive before buying. Reach out to the company through its official channels, such as a support email or phone number, as well as by direct message on the social media platform.

Donets suggests doing this multiple times to get a true sense of the company’s responsiveness.

“In my experience, this strategy works 90% of the time,” Donets says. “In most cases, a shady company will answer one or maximum two questions, and then they would stop replying.”

4. Triple-check the return policy

Make sure you’re crystal clear on the return policy before tapping the “buy” button. If you’re unhappy with the item, how many days do you have to return it? Does the site allow for a full refund or will you be issued a credit? Does the company even allow returns?

“I fell into this trap and bought a ring with my daughters’ names on it,” Woroch says. “It did not look like the picture in the ad, and unfortunately I overlooked the no-return policy. So basically I threw away $40.”

5. Pay with a credit card

You can do all the research in the world and still fall victim to a glossy Instagram ad. And if you paid from a checking account or with cryptocurrency, you have little recourse to get your money back.

But credit cards have an extra layer of protection. If an item isn’t as advertised and the brand’s customer service doesn’t come through and resolve the issue, you can initiate a chargeback through your credit card company and have the charge reversed.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Kelsey Sheehy writes for NerdWallet. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

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The 5 Worst Investment Tips on TikTok

This article provides information for educational purposes. NerdWallet does not offer advisory or brokerage services, nor does it recommend specific investments, including stocks, securities or cryptocurrencies.

Do-it-yourself is fine when the stakes are low; everything you need to know about patching drywall is on TikTok. But what about when the stakes are high? Would you rewire your home after watching a few TikTok videos? Probably not, and the same logic goes for financial advice.

Pouring your savings into an investment — or any product — being hawked on social media is generally a bad idea. But how will you know which bits of advice are legitimate, and which are bunk? Below, experts weigh in on the worst investment advice they’ve seen recently on TikTok and other social media.

1. The FIRE movement is for everyone

FIRE stands for “financial independence, retire early,” and given how the movement has spread on social media, the acronym is apt. Chris Woods, a certified financial planner and founder of LifePoint Financial Group in Alexandria, Virginia, says that many of the core tenets of the FIRE movement are great: They focus on lowering your expenses, saving heavily, putting money into diversified index funds and generating multiple streams of income to help you retire early, which may all be sound financial decisions.

The problem is, everyone’s financial situation is different. Financial planners spend a lot of time upfront learning as much as they can about someone’s unique financial standing before making any recommendations. And for some, he says, the FIRE movement may be an appropriate goal. But it’s not for everyone, and sound bites from social media influencers can’t take your personal situation into consideration.

“So many people will do what these influencers are saying, even if it’s not the appropriate thing for them,” Woods says. “That’s one of my big overarching disappointments or gripes with the influencers out there. Because a lot of times, they’re talking about this stuff without context.”

The next time you see someone living their best #vanlife and boasting how they retired at 30, remember you’re seeing a highlight reel, Woods says. Their financial situation may have been completely different from yours, and there’s no guarantee what worked for them is right for you.

2. Forget about 401(k)s and IRAs

There’s a thought out there that boring, long-established wealth-building strategies, such as funding retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs, are outdated.

“This is all so faulty and so bad I don’t know where to start,” says Tiffany Kent, a CFP and portfolio manager at Wealth Engagement LLC in Atlanta.

Kent says that to stand out on social media, someone can’t just talk about typical retirement accounts over and over again, no matter how proven they are. Boring doesn’t inspire viewers to smash that “like” button.

Instead, they talk up new, complicated — and at times confusing — products, simply to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes the ideas are a bit contrarian, other times they’re outright outlandish. But this approach, Kent says, is absolutely the wrong way to get financial advice.

“If it’s boring, it’s good,” Kent says.

3. Precious metals are the best long-term play

Gene McManus, a CFP, certified public accountant and managing partner at AP Wealth Management in Augusta, Georgia, said by email that he’s seen claims that precious metals IRAs (which invest in gold and silver instead of stocks and bonds) are a better choice than typical IRAs.

He said acolytes of the strategy argue that precious metals IRAs better protect your money from things like inflation, global supply shortages or a collapse of the financial markets.

But McManus disagrees.

“The long-term history and performance of gold and silver do not indicate that they are a rewarding asset class,” he said. “There are short-term periods that they might outperform the S&P 500, but over the long term, they don’t make sense to own, especially exclusively or overweight in a portfolio.”

4. Hundreds of thousands of people can’t be wrong

It’s true that there’s power in numbers. However, it’s equally fair to say that mob mentality, echo chambers and hype can get in the way of rational decision making. Anthony Trias, a CFP and principal at Stonebridge Financial Group in San Rafael, California, says he’s worked with clients who are investing in stocks they’ve heard mentioned on social media — no matter how staggering the claims of future potential — because of how many people were talking them up.

“There are going to be 300,000 people on social media saying one thing,” Trias says. “But prudent investors block out the noise, do their due diligence and look at who they’re actually listening to.”

Trias also echoes Woods’ concerns. Validating investment ideas based on social media hype is problematic, he says, because investment decisions should be highly tailored to you and your needs — and that’s just not possible on social media.

5. Your cryptocurrency will absolutely go to the moon

All the rocket emoji in the world couldn’t give a valueless cryptocurrency long-term staying power, no matter who’s pumping it.

Clayton Moore, founder and CEO at crypto-payment system NetCents Technology, said by email that while engaging platforms like TikTok have been instrumental in spreading the word about cryptocurrencies, they’ve also become breeding grounds for fraud.

“You’ve got to watch out for the crypto influencer who’s just in it for a quick buck,” he said. “The classic pump and dump.”

Moore said it’s common for crypto influencers to accept payment in exchange for making wild claims about a coin, only to abandon their support for it once the check clears.

“If it is too good to be true, 99% of the time, it is,” Moore said.

Chris Davis writes for NerdWallet. Email: cdavis@nerdwallet.com.

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Neutralize the Digital Threat You Carry Everywhere

Your smartphone is your confidante, your hand-held connection to the world — and one of your biggest vulnerabilities.

Scammers can take advantage of day-to-day tasks that seem innocuous, like checking a bank balance or charging a phone at a public USB port, to exploit personal information for their profit.

To keep that data safe, start by understanding the threats you face. Your phone has three main areas of vulnerability: its hardware, its software and your phone number. Each carries a risk, and there are steps you can take to mitigate them.

Hardware vulnerability

A four-digit passcode alone isn’t enough to secure your phone’s hardware from intruders.

One weakness comes from the charging port. Think twice before plugging into a public USB jack for a quick charge at a cafe or airport.

“Any time you’re using a mobile port, you can be vulnerable to viruses or malware if you’re sharing it with other people who are plugging in their devices,” says Lisa Schifferle, ID theft program manager at the Federal Trade Commission.

Using a public charging port at an airport is like “finding a toothbrush on the side of the road and deciding to stick it in your mouth” Caleb Barlow, vice president of X-Force Threat Intelligence at IBM Security, recently told Forbes.

Hackers can modify these ports to install malevolent software, aka malware, on your phone. Once installed, it can transfer your phone’s data to hackers. The hacked USB ports can also directly suck up your phone’s information. To avoid the risk, use your USB cord with your own charging block that can plug into a standard electrical outlet, or use an external battery pack.

For daily security, go beyond the four-digit passcode if possible, says Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist at the cybersecurity company McAfee.

“Passcodes aren’t as effective as biometrics, like fingerprint readers or facial recognition software, because people can do shoulder surfing to see your passcode and get into your phone” if they steal it.

Software and network risks

Scammers can target your personal information using unsecured wireless networks and software vulnerabilities.

Network risks: Be wary of public Wi-Fi networks.

“We advise against using public Wi-Fi, but if you’re going to use it, avoid logging in to sensitive accounts,” says Allen Spence, director of product leadership at IDShield, an identity theft protection company.

To protect yourself from inadvertently using insecure Wi-Fi networks, adjust your phone settings to avoid auto-connecting to Wi-Fi.

Software: Hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in phone software. Schifferle of the FTC suggests consumers routinely check for and download software updates for their phones, because updates often include security patches.

Phone number vulnerabilities

There are two common ways that scammers target your phone number: robocall scams and phone number theft.

Robocalls: U.S. consumers fielded nearly 48 billion robocalls in 2018, according to an estimate from robocall blocking service YouMail. That was a 57% increase from 2017.

A common scam comes from supposed representatives of the Social Security Administration requesting you give your personal information or your benefits will be cut. If you get a call from a number you don’t recognize, don’t answer. That’s the best way to ensure you don’t get caught up in a phone scam. And know that government agencies like Social Security and the IRS won’t call you out of the blue seeking your personal information.

“You should never give personal info or money unless you have initiated the call,” Schifferle says. If you answer a call and realize it may be a scammer, hang up, she advises.

If you suspect your personal information was stolen by scammers, file a report with the FTC at identitytheft.gov.

Phone number theft: Scammers are stealing phone numbers, which can leave you vulnerable to other forms of identity theft.

The scam is clever: A malevolent actor calls your cell phone carrier pretending to be you, and after confirming some key information such as your mother’s maiden name, transfers your phone number to their device. You may not find out this has happened until you go to make a call and find that your SIM card has been deactivated.

Because phone numbers are often used as security keys, hackers may be able to get into many other accounts once they have access to your phone account. Make it harder to penetrate by avoiding common security questions, Davis says. “When you set up your security questions and answers, make sure you’re using really challenging questions that are going to be hard to figure out.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

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The article Neutralize the Digital Threat You Carry Everywhere originally appeared on NerdWallet.

These Types of Apps Could Prompt Impromptu Spending

While some apps help you save money, others have a way of encouraging you to spend more.

Changing how you connect with these types of apps by deleting them, not downloading them in the first place or limiting your interaction with them can help you rein in your spending.

Subscription-based apps

Many subscription services and boxes have corresponding apps. And you may feel inclined to sign up for a subscription if you can easily manage your membership from an app.

But automatic subscriptions are dangerous because consumers tend to continue using (and paying for) them, as opposed to canceling when they’re done, says Susan Weinschenk, a behavioral scientist and CEO of The Team W, a consulting company.

“If it requires action to make it stop, then we’re less likely to actually take that action and make it stop,” Weinschenk says. “We all fall prey to inertia.”

To save, stay away from subscriptions and their corresponding apps in the first place. Or, use apps to fight apps. For example, Weinschenk suggests setting up alerts to remind you when a free trial is expiring — before you’re charged. You can also set up twice yearly alerts as a reminder to review all of your ongoing subscriptions, streaming services and so forth.

Shopping apps

Deals make people feel good.

When consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow interviewed shoppers about how they feel when getting a good bargain, they’ve likened it to coming in first in a race or getting a raise at their job.

“There’s just a winning feeling,” says Yarrow, who is also the author of “Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy.”

Deal-centric apps, such as those for certain stores, bring those feel-good bargains straight to you via your smartphone. But tempting sale notifications can encourage more shopping, which may mean it’s better to delete those retail apps altogether.

Or at least turn off the app’s alerts, advises Weinschenk. That way, you aren’t constantly flooded with push notifications about sales.

Another strategy? Weinschenk said she’s downloaded a store’s app, redeemed a coupon offer and then uninstalled the app just as easily as she installed it.

But if you’re disciplined, you can keep the apps, says Casey Taylor, a partner in Bain & Company’s retail practice. Take advantage of the savings within shopping apps, but also monitor how much you’re spending in them. For example, check your credit card statements regularly to stay within your discretionary spending budget.

Social media apps

The products you see in your social media feed — whether from retailers or friends — could encourage you to purchase things you wouldn’t otherwise buy.

But deleting social media isn’t an option for many. “Most people really want to have social media in their lives, so I can’t see getting rid of those apps,” Yarrow says.

Instead, she says to be aware that Instagram and Facebook will present you with buying opportunities. Be conscious that marketing is constantly targeted at you, and “you’re being hunted, stalked, chased down,” Yarrow says. “When you go shopping online, if you stop and hover too long over a product, that product’s going to show up on your social media feed, and you have to be ready to say no.”

Even when you’re not paying money for these apps, Yarrow says you’re paying with your attention.

Rewards apps

Rewards program apps, whether for a grocery store, airline or coffee shop, typically function in much the same way. The more customers spend, the more rewards they unlock.

Taylor says it can almost feel like a game.

For example, in the Starbucks app, “You earn stars that you can then burn for rewards,” she says. If you’re a very disciplined customer, you could save money by claiming a free coffee or snack using stars you accumulated from items you were already buying, Taylor says.

But, she adds, “what you see is it becomes psychologically tempting to buy things just to earn those stars.

So be careful not to let climbing the tiers of a reward system lead you to spend more in the process.

With any app, Yarrow says one way to curb excess purchases is to simply be aware of the potential dangers. Pause and recognize your tendency to overspend before it happens.

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The article These Types of Apps Could Prompt Impromptu Spending originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Bye-Bye, Brick-and-Mortar: How One Couple Made the Switch to Online Savings

If you’ve been considering making the jump to an online bank, here’s a reason to do it now: A recent Federal Reserve rate increase may prod banks to give their customers higher interest rates on their savings in 2019. Here, one man walks us through why he and his wife decided to take the plunge with a high-yield online savings account.

Paul, 33, writes tax regulations for a California government agency. (Due to the sensitive nature of his previous work as a tax collector, he prefers not to publicize his last name.) After selling a rental property in November, he and his wife, Jocelyn, 32, decided to search for a good place to park the proceeds. They decided a high-yield savings account at an online bank would be their best bet for high returns on their money.

The goals: a college fund and diversification

The family’s savings goals are a bit nebulous at the moment, Paul says, but with a 2-year-old on the scene and the possibility of other children in the future, he and Jocelyn want to have savings socked away for college and diversify where they keep their money. As state employees, Paul and Jocelyn use a local credit union for their day-to-day checking accounts.

“Besides our checking and savings, we have a mutual fund, a retirement account and stocks we own ourselves. I’m a fan of not putting all my eggs in one basket,” Paul says.

Why online banks were appealing

“It’s as simple as: I wanted to make more money off of my money,” Paul says. “I wanted something secure, reliable and not as open to market fluctuations, as opposed to a money market account. I also didn’t want to have to worry about locking away my money in a bond.”

Online banks are typically able to offer higher interest rates than brick-and-mortar banks because they don’t have to pay to maintain branches. An annual percentage yield, or APY, of 0.01% — a typical rate at a traditional bank — versus the 2% or more currently available at an online bank might not sound like much. But over the years, it can mean a difference of thousands of dollars as your money collects compound interest.

Say you put away a $10,000 windfall and added $100 per month to a bank account with a 0.01% APY for 10 years. With compound interest, you’ll have earned just $17. In an account with an APY of 2%, however, that same money will have earned more than $3,500 in interest. That allure, combined with ever-improving technology for online customer service, has made online banking increasingly popular.

But first, a few considerations

Paul and Jocelyn did have some initial concerns about online banking.

“I’m generally more distrustful of apps, and hacks make me nervous,” Paul says.

When researching online banks, he not only considered a bank’s website but also looked it up on the Better Business Bureau website, verified it was insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and checked into whether the bank had ever been in the news for fraudulent behavior.

Pulling the trigger on an online account

After doing online research, Paul chose CIT Bank, an online-only financial institution that currently offers a higher-than-average 2.45% interest rate for customers who either have a $25,000 balance or who deposit $100 or more into their account monthly.

Paul says he’s not necessarily a brand loyalist, however; like many interest rate optimizers, he says he plans to go where any given bank will give him the best return on his money. He looks past promotional bonus offers on savings accounts — many of which come with strings attached, such as committing to stay with that bank for a certain length of time — in favor of more flexible arrangements that offer a greater return in the long run.

But for now, Paul plans to let his money do the work for him and his wife in their new online account.

Should you switch?

Online banking does have its drawbacks for some customers, especially those who enjoy face-to-face interactions with service reps or who aren’t as comfortable with the idea of using mobile technology to manage their money.

But for customers willing to take the plunge, the difference in the long-term returns of a high-yield interest rate can be well worth the effort of switching.

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The article Bye-Bye, Brick-and-Mortar: How One Couple Made the Switch to Online Savings originally appeared on NerdWallet.

How to Resist Online Ads and Keep Your Money

Online ads are like salespeople. Sometimes they’re helpful — and sometimes they trail you while you shop, make suggestions, “check in” on you, and all but shove you to the checkout.

Those online ads “chase you around the internet,” says Neeru Paharia, associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. They get in your face to convince you to spend.

And while online advertising isn’t all bad — it can expose you to products from companies that can’t afford TV ads, Paharia says — the persistence and targeting can lead to unplanned purchases.

How online ads (stalk and) tempt you


Say you’re shopping for jeans, and the salesperson takes your measurements and learns about your style to suggest a fitting pair. Marketers learn about you, too, in order to advertise exactly what you want. Retailers’ targeted advertising tools work within websites to collect your data and track your internet activity. If you browse home-improvement blogs, for example, marketers may show you ads for power drills.

Or maybe you’ve been eyeing a specific pair of sneakers. Marketers may plant ads for the same kicks on social media, in articles and sponsored emails. Even if your brain knows that these repeated ads are targeted and designed to make you spend money, your heart may feel that they’re serendipitous. “The more that we come in contact with something, the more it feels like it should be part of our lives,” says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and author of “Decoding the New Consumer Mind.”

Through apps

Apps track you in even more ways than browsers, says Rebecca Herold, CEO of The Privacy Professor consultancy. Most people “mindlessly” agree to app terms, she says, which often grant access to text messages, contacts and other information. “You’re leaving this huge cloud of data that’s just emanating out of your phone or device and going directly to those who want to sell you something,” Herold says.

App providers may sell this “personal data exhaust” to third parties for marketing and research, she says. With this information, marketers can serve you especially relevant (and tempting) ads. Consider a running app that tracks your routes. “Maybe [marketers] know from the data that you like pets, and they see that you’re running by a pet store,” Herold says. “They can make it more likely that you will purchase something there by showing you an ad for a sale or even offering a coupon.”

In social media

You may see targeted ads on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest — sites where you can easily buy the products advertised. For example, ads for sneakers may show up in an Instagram post or story, where a tap or swipe sends you to the retailer’s website to buy them.

Fear of missing out can compound the urge to buy products highlighted in your feed. After all, friends’ curated profiles can make it seem like everyone but you is running on the beach in fancy sneakers, remodeling their kitchen with a power drill, and spoiling their dog with new toys from the pet store.

As Yarrow puts it: “As long as we’re using social media as a way to gauge what we’re capable of having, we’re never going to feel like we have enough.”

How to avoid impulse buys

Keep data to yourself. The less personal data available to marketers, the harder it is for them to inundate you with targeted ads. Remove every app you don’t use, Herold says, and for apps you keep, “change the privacy and security settings so they block as much of the tracking as possible.”

Online, clearing your cookies — a kind of tech that tracks your activity — and using incognito mode can help you browse the internet a little more privately, Herold says, adding: “Using an anonymous browser, like Tor, will provide even more privacy for your activities.” And if you want to check out those sneakers, you’ll give away less data by going directly to the retailer website, rather than clicking an ad.

Pause before you purchase. Buying something through an online ad is tempting, because it’s quick and abstract. “You see a product, you love it, you wish it was yours, and suddenly it is,” Yarrow says. “It feels like magic.”

Break that spell by waiting at least 20 minutes before making what could be a more rational decision, Yarrow says. In that time, demystify the purchase by considering other uses for that money. “You’ve got to make it real,” she says. Maybe the cost of those shoes is half a student-loan payment.

If you can, wait a couple of days, Yarrow says. “My guess is that at least half the time, you will forget about it forever.”

The article How to Resist Online Ads and Keep Your Money originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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How Banking Apps Can Motivate You to Save

Every time Olivia Robinson shops at Nordstrom, $10 moves from her checking account to savings. She set up this automatic transfer, or “rule,” in the savings app Qapital.

The rule “has definitely scaled back my spending at Nordstrom,” says Robinson, 26, a flight attendant and travel blogger based in Seattle. This way of saving money “makes me feel like I can go on a trip and not feel guilty about it.”

Some apps, like Qapital, can help bridge the gap between our desire to save more money and following through. Here’s how tech tools can nudge us to save — with clues from behavioral economics, a field that explores how our thoughts and feelings affect how we handle money.

Automatic transfers: giving in to the ‘default effect’

Studies show that we tend to accept a default option instead of changing it. For example, companies that automatically enroll their employees in 401(k) plans tend to see higher participation rates.

Similarly, some banking apps harness this behavior to help us save gradually.

  • Opting into automatic savings programs: Apps such as Qapital and Acorns — and some banks, too — can round up each transaction to the nearest dollar and transfer the cents over to a savings or investing account. You won’t get rich quick, but the savings add up over time.
  • Setting up automatic transfers: Banks’ apps or websites usually let you transfer money from checking to savings accounts, so you can set up recurring transfers, possibly timed around when your paycheck arrives.

» Looking for a high-yield savings account? See our top choices

Ideally, we’d save by looking at our monthly expenses and carefully calculating how much we can set aside. But automating a fixed-amount transfer offers the luxury of dropping a task from your to-do list.

“Making something default or automatic is a great way to overcome issues of self-control,” says Jeff Kreisler, co-author of the behavioral economics book “Dollars and Sense” and editor in chief of PeopleScience.com.

Savings goals and budgets: using mental accounting

In a 100% rational world, we would treat all our money consistently. But that’s not how it always shakes out.

For example, you might have coffee at home to avoid spending $4 at a cafe, but also buy a $10 beer at a baseball game even though it’s cheaper to buy a six-pack at the store and tailgate. The coffee, you might justify, is a daily expense, while the beer is part of your “fun money.”

This tendency to think about money differently depending on where it is, such as which bank account it’s in, is called “mental accounting,” Kreisler says. Such categorizing isn’t a bad thing if you can use it to your advantage:

  • Tracking spending by category. Budgeting apps such as Mint and You Need a Budget can sync with your bank accounts and break down your spending in specific areas, such as dining and grocery shopping. This helps keep tabs on where you overspend and curb any bad habits.
  • Using separate accounts. Some online banks let you open multiple savings accounts and give each a nickname that can map to your savings goals, such as a future vacation or an emergency fund, and use an app to view balances and set up transfers. You’re less likely to dip into that money if it’s not part of your checking balance.

» See which banks offer multiple savings accounts

Spending locks: accepting the ‘pain of paying’

“There is a pain we all feel when we give up something,” Kreisler and Dan Ariely wrote in “Dollars and Sense.” Buying things means we’re giving up money.

Credit cards, e-wallets and the latest payment technology make paying more effortless and less painful than using cash, but their convenience has a downside.

“Pain serves a purpose,” Kreisler says. “It makes us pay attention to what we’re doing and adjust” when necessary.

But using cash isn’t the only way to raise spending awareness. Apps can help here, too.

  • Locking debit and credit cards: Some banks let you switch your plastic on and off within their mobile apps, which can help control impulse buying. This might be handy if you associate spending categories, such as ride-sharing or eating out, with certain cards.

» Learn more about credit card locks

  • Blocking certain spending categories: Though only available overseas so far, one major credit card issuer and some online-only banks in the U.K. have rolled out an app option to block certain types of transactions, such as those from bars and gambling websites.

Of course, you control the locks and blocks. But adding an extra barrier to paying might be enough to prevent unnecessary spending.

As banking technology advances, we’ll likely see other ways that apps can help motivate us, such as more timely and personalized advice.

“We aren’t yet at the step where many banks are offering those proactive suggestions or reminders with respect to a budget,” says Daniel Latimore, chief research officer at financial analyst firm Celent. “But I can see that happening in the near future.”

You can’t literally download motivation. But some banking tools may give you just the right push to boost your savings habits.

The article How Banking Apps Can Motivate You to Save originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Don’t Let Instagram Envy Get You Into Debt

When was the last time scrolling through Instagram made you feel better?

If you’re like me, the puppy photos on your feed momentarily boost your mood, but the parade of carefully selected and artfully edited experiences leaves you feeling depleted. How can these people afford to travel to New Zealand? When will it be your turn to road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, drinking wine on sunlit rooftops along the way?

You know by now that social media leaves out the fender benders, arguments and weather mishaps essential to any vacation. You can add financial faux pas to that list.

A full 48% of U.S. households have credit card debt, according to a recent NerdWallet analysis. The average household with debt carries $6,929 in balances from month to month, which means paying about $1,141 in interest per year.

You can’t really know how much money your friends have. But it’s safe to say that at least some of them may not be able to afford the trips that make you feel inferior without going into credit card debt. Here’s how to keep Instagram from bullying you into overspending.

Find the source of your FOMO

If a friend’s vacation photo really got under your skin, explore why. The destination or trip itself may not be the source of that FOMO, or fear of missing out. Has it been a while since you’ve taken time off work, and you’re resentful of how relaxed this person seems? Are you jealous of how close they appear to their partner or friends?

There could be ways to ease your anxiety for free, without vacationing at all. Consider scheduling a mental health day and going to a local museum on a day with free or reduced-price admission to get your mind off work. Round up friends interested in starting a book club or hiking group that meets monthly so you can feel part of a community.

Vacation for cheap

If traveling is what you crave, plan a debt-free vacation by estimating how much you’ll spend on transportation, lodging, meals and activities and saving that amount in advance. Some online savings accounts let you create sub-accounts for specific purposes, so setting aside money each month for travel means you save passively over time.

But if you haven’t been saving and need a getaway stat, stay flexible on dates and locations and use price-tracking apps to find hotel and flight deals. Consider staying local and taking a short road trip to an attraction in your area you’ve never been to. Split an Airbnb nearby with a group of friends and spend a weekend doing activities that don’t involve screens, like playing cards, exploring nature and making art.

Credit cards aren’t always the enemy; with a good credit score and a commitment to paying off your balance each month, you can get a rewards card that lets you earn points or cash back that will subsidize future trips. Be realistic about your ability to spend responsibly and avoid carrying a balance, though. The interest you could end up paying, and the anxiety that comes with ballooning credit card debt, can quickly erode any post-vacation glow.

Cut back on scrolling

There’s another, potentially nuclear-sounding option to prevent social media-influenced spending: Don’t look at Instagram at all.

You don’t have to go cold turkey. You can continue to post your own photos or communicate with friends via direct message, but rein in mindlessly perusing other people’s feeds. Start by setting a goal to wait until noon to open the app, or choosing two specific times of day to check it. Like any behavior you’re trying to change, it will be hard at first, but you’ll likely be surprised by how little you miss the app. Fill the time you get back with activities you enjoy.

The ideal outcome? Making plans and choosing travel experiences based on what makes you happy, not on a highly filtered version of someone else’s life.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

The article Don’t Let Instagram Envy Get You Into Debt originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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5 Ways Your Social Media Profiles Can Help You Get Into College

Everything from your Facebook account to your Google search results is fair game when you apply for work.

But what about applying for admission to a university?

About 40 percent of admissions departments check social media to learn about candidates, according to a survey of 365 colleges performed by Kaplan Test Prep in 2016.

On the bright side, half of those departments said their search had a positive impact on the students’ applications.

5 ways to use your social media profiles to your advantage

When applying to colleges or graduate schools, your first reaction might be to check your privacy settings on popular platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.

Although that’s a safe choice, your social media profiles can also be vehicles to tell a positive story to admissions officers. You control what they see, after all, even if you don’t control their ultimate decision.

1. Match your profiles to your applications

Your college application, with well-written essays and killer letters of recommendation, should present you in the best possible light. There’s no reason why your tweets shouldn’t too. And there are ways to do that beyond posting with perfect spelling and grammar.

If you wrote a college essay about helping your younger siblings through tough times, for example, an admissions officer might look for pictures of them on your Facebook profile. Similarly, your online profiles can be good places to post photos of your successes, such as receiving academic awards or playing for your high school’s sports teams.

It might be wise to look back at your past photos on these platforms too. You might find one or two that would make an admissions officer question whether you’re the same applicant who nailed their paper application.

2. Show your interest in schools

Liking and following the social media profiles of your preferred schools is a smart move. Take it a step further by finding appropriate ways to engage with the schools on these platforms. You might comment on a school’s post, or tag the school during your college visit.

Be wary of going all out for your “reach” school on social media if you’re still being considered by others. The admissions officer of your “target” school could be put off. You also wouldn’t want to poke fun at your “safety” school. You’d be better served needling their rival.

You can also demonstrate your interest in a major. If you’re being considered by a university’s college of business, for example, they might like to know that you follow top financial experts online.

3. Post about your passions

Your college essay is one way to tell schools about your deepest desires and strongest passions. But your social media profiles can also be a vehicle to show off your interest in, well, whatever it is that interests you. You might be one of the following, to name a few examples:

  • An aspiring science major who tweets the latest news from NASA
  • A teen journalist linking to their latest blog post
  • A musician posting a video of their weekend concert

Relishing in your favorite pastime online gives schools another window into who you are beyond your grades.

Although it’s great to post and comment about your interests, be wary of offending someone else’s views in the process. Although college campuses are ripe for debate, think twice about sharing strong opinions with a public audience.

One test to avoid overstepping: Would you share this opinion during an in-person sit-down with the admissions officer? If not, you have your answer.

This goes for posts or comments you might make within seemingly private groups on social media platforms. In 2017, Harvard University rescinded admissions offers to at least 10 incoming freshmen when they were found to be sharing hateful memes via a private Facebook group chat.

To be on the safe side, consider avoiding posts that are meant to be funny but could be misunderstood. You could be punished by perception, not reality.

4. Share the highlights of your social life

There’s nothing wrong with most high school party pictures. They might actually help you. For one, admissions officers want to enroll well-rounded students who have social lives.

For another, the photos might show that you’re comfortable interacting with all different kinds of students. Admissions departments want their campuses to be full of different ideas from students of different backgrounds.

Positive impressions can be gleaned from your Instagram account and Facebook photo galleries. So don’t worry about having to hide them from school admissions departments.

On the flip side, be diligent about how you might appear in friend’s photos, especially on platforms that allow users to tag people without their consent. You wouldn’t want an admissions officer to find a particular image and get the wrong impression.

5. Keep posting after you apply

If you apply for college in January of your senior year of high school, it might be one to two months before an admissions officer has made a final decision. This would be the period, between January and March, where your social media profiles might be reviewed.

If it strengthens your case for admission, use this time to be your own advocate online. Connect the dots for an admissions officer who might be on the fence. If you focused your application essay on a senior project, for example, post updates about its progress.

You might also use your profiles to document your search for college scholarships. Posting about applications and awards could show colleges that you’re serious about finding your way to campus.

If you haven’t yet applied to schools, consider including links to, say, a LinkedIn profile in your college application. This way, you can also point admissions departments toward the social media platform of your choice.

Be aware that your school might also be among the 200-plus to use a social media-like mobile app called ZeeMee that connects schools with their potential students. It could be one more way to share your story.

Use social media to your benefit

When you read that prospective Harvard students were told they were no longer welcome in the class of 2021, your gut reaction might be to shut down all your social media accounts. Less dramatically, you might opt for restricting public access to the accounts.

Depending on your situation, those might be the wisest steps to take. But consider that you’re in control of your narrative.

If you close your accounts, you lose one way to make your case to get into a particular college.

So, instead, turn your social media feeds into a positive thing for admissions officers to look at. Afterall, it might just push you over the top and help you get accepted.

The article “5 Ways Your Social Media Profiles Can Help You Get Into College” originally appeared on studentloanhero.com.

Image by Bloomua via 123RF Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_bloomua’>bloomua / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

7 Actionable Tips to Stay Marketable in a Tough Job Market

It’s no secret that the job market is becoming increasingly competitive and difficult to navigate. Creating a name for yourself in your industry and becoming successful is no easy task. Professional development is a skill you’ll have to continuously work on, even outside of work, in order to get the job you want in the industry you are passionate about. To help you get started with this tricky task, here are some tips to stay marketable.

  1. Take Classes and Get Certifications

There are endless opportunities to take classes online to learn a new skill or get certified in something relevant to your industry. Find online classes that pique your interest and will be helpful in your field, and sign up. Carve out time in your schedule each week to dedicate to learning. Becoming a lifelong learner is an incredibly useful and smart quality to have.

  1. Join a Professional Association

Almost every industry has a professional association connected to it that allows members to join and receive benefits, such as networking events, professional conferences and mentoring programs. You may have to pay dues each year in order to join, but it will be well worth it. Being part of a professional association looks great on a resume or business card, opens you up to multiple opportunities to get involved and get ahead, and will introduce you to the top dogs in your industry.

  1. Network

Even if you don’t join a professional association, networking is probably the best thing you can do for yourself while trying to make yourself more marketable. Attending conferences, reaching out to people on LinkedIn and expanding your network through friends of friends can make or break you when it comes to a job search. Knowing the right people can expose you to the perfect opportunities and give you a leg up on the competition at just the right time.

  1. Discover and Create Content

Blogs, professional journals and social media open up the world to anybody who wants to get their thoughts out there. As a professional in your industry, you most likely have some insights that other people would love to get their hands on. Submit articles to professional journals, write guest posts for blogs or even start your own blog. Getting published is a big benefit to your professional development and will help you build a portfolio you can show to potential employers in the future.

  1. Clean up Your Social Media

Social media is often one of the first things potential employers look at, so make sure all your channels are updated, accurate and reflect your best self. Keep all your pages professional, showing off your love for your industry and the best side of yourself. You can also use social media to make connections. This works especially well on LinkedIn, but can be done on other networks as well.

  1. Take on a Challenge

Don’t be afraid to step up and take on a new project at work that is outside of your comfort zone. You may find something you’re really interested in or discover a skill you never knew you had. Plus, this will make you stand out to your supervisor and maybe help you get a promotion if that’s what you’re looking for.

  1. Find a Mentor

Finding a mentor who started where you are and got to where you want to be can be extremely beneficial as you climb the corporate ladder. To successfully build a mentor relationship, find just one or two people who you really look up to and can trust and ask them to be your professional mentor. The two of you can decide exactly what that relationship will look like based on your industry and personalities, but make sure you meet regularly to discuss what you’re doing and get advice and feedback.

Using these tips, you can stay marketable and begin your climb to the top of your industry. Remember to stay professional, keep making contacts and stay focused on your ultimate career objective. With just a little bit of work and dedication, you can reach even your biggest goals.

Anum Yoon is a personal finance blogger who runs Current on Currency. She strives to share practical money tips to college students and recent grads. Sign up for her weekly money newsletter here.