Personal Finance Blogs: Packed with Per-Click Payola

personal finance

Real-life stories of conquering debt. Daily stock pick recommendations. Foreign currency trading guides. Websites claiming to offer personal finance guidance range from in-the-money to off-the-point. You can spend more time searching for meaningful, relevant information than actually finding any.

And once you finally find a personal finance blog or website that seems useful, easy to read and entertaining, you may find one important thing missing: objectivity.

Turns out many personal finance blogs have gone from thoughtful, to bought and paid for. Beginning as self-written accounts of personal financial reform, they sold out — some for millions of dollars – and the pay-per-click conflict began. Rather than featuring stories of debt despair and repair, these blogs began publishing “Best Credit Cards for Rewards Points” and “Best New Bank Accounts.”

In fact, this article began as an effort to build a list of the “Best of the Best Personal Finance Blogs.” Instead, I found the search leading me to little more than profit platforms. List after list of “personal finance blogs” linked instead to:

  • Websites primarily concerned with registering readers as paid users for access to stock (or currency, or bond, etc.) trading strategies. Personal finance is not about hot tips and fast trades. Investment portfolio construction should not be a piecemeal process.
  • Blogs with little more than sponsored content. You certainly can’t be objective if you’re being paid for your opinion.
  • Blogs pitching e-books or products more than providing helpful information. IWillTeachYouToBeRich is an example. You can find some good information here, but the challenge is to determine where the advice ends and the ads begin.
  • Purported money-saving websites that are really nothing more than paid link farms and affiliate funnels. That’s just more per-click payola.

(Read More: “Why You’ll Lose Money Buying Apple, Yahoo and Bank of America Stock”)

Sidebars filled with ads labeled as such are one thing. There’s no harm in clearly identified sponsorships, but paid editorial content should be off limits. Consider some websites that are highly-visited and at the top of “personal finance blogs” search results:

  • Wisebread: With down-home content similar to rural tabloids like Grit, they admit in a disclosure that their articles can contain paid affiliate links and sponsored content.
  • MoneyNing: I really like this site. It’s clean, straight-forward and has some good, basic information. But again, who can you trust? Their disclaimer says, “This site may receive compensation from companies to offer an opinion about a product or service.”
  • GetRichSlowly:  Another highly-cited blog with some excellent articles.  Founder J.D. Roth sold this blog a couple of years ago but has recently returned as a contributor. Though it has a typical Federal Trade Commission blog disclaimer that says “This website may be compensated by companies mentioned through advertising, affiliate programs or otherwise,” I couldn’t detect any sponsored content.

One of the few objective websites that frequently appears on personal finance blog lists is Consumerist.  Now published by the not-for-profit Consumer Reports magazine, the Consumerist accepts no advertising or sponsored content and doesn’t exchange links, so you know there is no hidden agenda. The only problem with these guys is their posts lean more often to quirky than quality. It’s not a pure-play personal finance site but still interesting and consumer-oriented.

The FTC has issued an endorsement guide that requires blogs and websites to clearly reveal when content has been compensated.  Unfortunately, the Commission says it doesn’t monitor blogs and there is no fine for not complying with the guidelines.

“If concerns about possible violations of the FTC Act come to our attention, we’ll evaluate them case by case,” the FTC says on its website. “If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus will be advertisers, not endorsers – just as it’s always been.”

So, finding personal finance web resources that offer pertinent, independent and well-considered viewpoints is difficult, at best. Trust me, I tried.  My “Best of the Best Personal Finance Blogs” project has momentarily fizzled in frustration. (I’m still looking. If you know of an objective personal finance website for my list let me know.)

Discovering more conflict of interest than content of interest leads me to offer personal finance blog readers one tip: when it comes to web content on money matters: trust but verify.

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