Where do we turn when we need answers, guidance or support on a matter that we’re confused about? We may talk to family, friends and professionals, but often alongside (or ahead of) consulting those folks, we hit up our favorite fountain of knowledge, Google. We have an insatiable need to know and this most powerful search engine, can feed us information endlessly. InternetLiveStats has a live ticker of how many Google searches are going on at any given moment. Right now, at 5pm, there have been nearly 4.5 billion searches so far — and that number is climbing so rapidly it’s a headache to watch.
How many of today’s searches are related to our money matters or concerns? It would take some intense SEO data breakdowns to figure this out, since money is broken into so many different keywords and phrases, but some quick exploring on Google Trends shows that money is constantly a topic of interest, and a new study by Student Loan Hero, lends some insights on just exactly what we’re searching for — and how our geography may influence our quest for improving our financial literacy.
Our financial state of mind varies from state to state
The study, which used Google Trends as its base for analysis, found that money-related queries vary across the U.S. Some states are more apparently most concerned with eliminating debt, others on saving for retirement, while issues like car loans and healthcare are the most popular areas of focus for other states. Cities also tend to have their own most likely money searches.
“We started with keywords we wanted to capture, then we looked at geographical insights,” Elyssa Kirkham, content writer at Student Loan Hero and the lead researcher on this project tells NBC News BETTER. “We also looked at [activity in] metropolitan areas which is how we got lists of cities.”
The motivation for this study, the first of its kind for Student Loan Hero, came from the company’s desire to learn what money questions were top of mind over the past year, from both a big picture, and a more localized viewpoint.
Some states may be stressing more over loans, others over the best credit cards
“Are people looking more on debt management [in one area]? Or are they more likely to be worried about late payments? By taking a state-level look at what people are interested in, we got an indicator of possible concerns there, and where people are more likely to be financially aware,” says Kirkham, adding: “However, if residents aren't searching on Google, that doesn't mean they don't have these questions, they just may not be looking online for answers there, or they’re putting these questions on the back burner.”
The study considered every state, including the District of Columbia, and found that while in some cases there’s no evident direct link between what’s happening at the local level, often there is a connection.
“Oregon’s top search was mortgage, and their housing market is booming, so that makes sense,” says Kirkham. “D.C. was searching student debt and public student loan forgiveness, which also makes sense because that may have a government job or work for a non-profit. Kentucky has had a lot of [debate] over pension policies, and people there were likely to be searching for the term ‘pension’.”
Residents are also reflecting their respective state’s economic woes in their Google searches.
“In states like Louisiana and Mississippi, there’s indication that people are struggling more to stay afloat,” noted Kirkham. In Louisiana, “payday loan” is searched for the most, and essential financial products like “auto insurance” and “checking account” are also popular. Missouri’s top search was social security, a state that is grappling with profound poverty.
United States of ‘Huh’? We’re All Searching These Four Terms
The popularity of our financial concerns and interest may run the gamut, geographically, but in some sense we’re all in this together. The study found that in key search terms soared this past year, landing as the most popular money search terms in the U.S — and as Zack Friedman, founder and CEO of Make Lemonade, a personal finance comparison site, notes, there are clear reasons why.
- The new tax bill. "The new tax law affects everyone,” says Friedman. “With new tax brackets and tax rates, Americans want to learn more how the new tax law will impact their financial pockets.”
- Equifax (and/or) the Equifax data breach. “The Equifax data breach sent shockwaves throughout America and highlighted the need for increased data security when it comes to personal and financial information,” he says. “Consumers want to learn more how they can safeguard their personal and financial information.”
- Cryptocurrency-related terms including “Bitcoin value” and “Bitcoin price." “Cryptocurrencies are one of the hottest financial trends, but they have created intense debate between believers and doubters,” Friedman says. “At the same time, consumers have witnessed a surge in the price of cryptocurrency prices before watching them decline. Consumers and investors also want to learn more about blockchain technology and its implications for financial services, health care, law and many other areas.”
- Deposit accounts and certificate of deposit. “Consumers want to know how to earn more on their savings, and how they can leverage online and mobile banking,” says Friedman. “In a rising interest rate environment like we have today, online checking and saving accounts are a smart financial move to earn a much higher interest rate for your money."
You can ask Google anything and not feel embarrassed or judged by your question, as you might be if you asked a friend or family member.
Google is useful, but consider experts to make financial decisions
All of these most popular search terms I’ve Googled myself when looking for answers. I'm also a true Los Angeleno judging by this study, as I’ve definitely Googled “best credit card” in the last year — one of the most likely financial search terms in L.A.
Google has been incredibly helpful in guiding me to the information I need, and as Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert with NerdWallet notes, “you can ask Google anything and not feel embarrassed or judged by your question, as you might be if you asked a friend or family member. We can get answers and stop feeling so confused by educating ourselves.”
But when making financial decisions that could be life changing, it’s recommended that we seek reputable sources that specialize in these matters.
“Google is definitely a good place to go to learn more about money, but you want to consider the source of the information before taking any advice,” says Palmer. “Websites vary widely in quality and accuracy, and while Google is good at leading you to websites that will answer your question, you want to make sure you know where that information comes from and whether or not it is biased or inaccurate. It’s a good idea to make sure you are getting your financial information from trusted sources, whether it’s a major media website, financial institution, or [a personal finance site].”
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