For many of us, money influencers and the free content they post to their accounts serve simply as a source of inspiration and free education. But is it worth signing up for paid sessions with an online money coach?

Last year around this time, Nereida Gomez, 30, was struggling to pay off a $16,000 personal loan, and getting deeper and deeper in credit card debt. She was living paycheck to paycheck, and she wasn't quite sure where her paycheck was even going.

Today, though, that personal loan is long gone. She's on track to pay off the rest of her credit card debt, her student loans, and her car loan in the next two years. More importantly, she's putting money toward investing for retirement and one day owning a home. "Maybe in the future I could have my own small business. Now that I'm on track with my debt and I'm on a better footing, I can actually start to expand my goals," Gomez says.

The catalyst for this personal finance 180? A money coach Gomez met on Instagram named Valery Vargas, aka @thedaintydollar.

You've maybe come across accounts like Vargas' while scrolling your own feed. Vargas is one of a growing crop of personal finance influencers. Instead of supporting their small social media businesses with sponsored content the way a fashion influencer might, they sell coaching services. They're often young people (especially young women) who work with clients one-on-one or in groups, helping them learn to make (and stay on) a budget, pay down debt, and get on track for financial success. They use their own personal stories with money to inspire others.

For example, when Vargas originally started her account in 2018, her goal was to simply keep herself motivated as she worked on paying down $43,000 of debt. "My Instagram was anonymous at first. It was too taboo to even say: Hey I have this much debt," she says.

But after buckling down on her budget, Vargas started opening up a bit more. She shared the account with friends and family, and they started to notice her success. She started coaching them in her methods informally, for free. Then, when they started to be successful, she realized she actually had a business on her hands. Today, she sells 90-minute one-on-one meetings for $225, and offers three- and six-month one-on-one coaching programs (offered on a sliding scale between $800 and $2,000) as well as group coaching programs.

For a lot of people, these money influencers, and the free content they post to their accounts, serve simply as a source of inspiration and free education. But for those who are interested in taking the plunge with paid coaching, it can sometimes be hard to know if it's right for you. Here's what you should know about working with a money coach.

A coach is not the same as a financial advisor.

Vargas, like a lot of influencer-coaches, is not certified as a fiduciary or affiliated with any financial institution. That's not necessarily a bad thing. "I'm not a financial advisor. I'm more like, I want to set you up on a clear plan so you can understand your money," Vargas explains. But it is important to know this, because before you pay for any type of coaching or advice, you should be aware of exactly what you're getting.

And one is not necessarily better than the other, says Misty Lynch, CFP, a financial advisor at Beck Bode, who also works as a financial life coach. It's just that they do different things. "A money coach isn't necessarily going to tell you how to invest the money you make or what to do with it. That's outside of their realm," Lynch says. "Their focus is creating a structure, on helping you get more out of your money so you can pay debt or increase your income."

A coach can be a shortcut to learning the basics.

Fact: A large number of Americans don't know the basics of personal finance. According to one recent survey from The Penny Hoarder, a full third of American adults can't recall ever discussing the basics of personal finance, such as credit reports, debt, savings accounts, and budgeting, with their parents. When you look at it this way, it's no wonder business is booming for coaches who have been able to make personal finance topics accessible.

If you're noticing you need help with the foundational tips and tricks of personal finance, you're definitely not alone. And that's where a coach can be really helpful. "Valery had the tools already there and she gave me the shortcut," Gomez says. "I was really overwhelmed at the time, but I felt like I could count on it working because it worked for her."


A coach can help hold you accountable.

Managing your money is more than just a matter of dollars and cents. To do it well, you have to be very honest with yourself. For a lot of people, money is a highly charged emotional subject. For example, it's not uncommon for those with debt to experience shame or overwhelm. It's also not uncommon to shop when we're feeling down, or to simply let our desires get the best of us in the moment, Lynch says. That's where a coach can really help.

"Having that outside neutral third party to talk to about your money issues is really powerful," says coach Ayanna Campbell Smith, aka @millennialmoneyguide. "When it comes to managing our own money, it's easy to make excuses for ourselves, to tell ourselves in the moment we'll save or pay down our debt later."

When you work with a coach, you know that next meeting with them is on the calendar, and you're going to have to explain yourself—and that can be just the thing you need to stick with better choices.

Your success still depends on you.

Coaches are not miracle workers. Like any other self-improvement journey, getting better at managing your money takes commitment and work. If you're going to spend the money on a coach, you can expect to get personalized help and advice about your situation. But it will still be up to you to follow through. This is why it's important to watch out for guarantees that seem too good to be true. "A coach can't guarantee a football player is going to win the game; they're not the one playing," Lynch says.

That said, if you feel like you're ready to commit, coaching can pay off. One way to improve your chances of success is to find someone whose content really speaks to you. Most coaches offer free discovery calls (in addition to free content) that allow you to get to know them first. Don't skip that part. "It's important to find someone you enjoy working with," Campbell Smith says. "I always say it is an investment that you're making, one that is more likely to pay off if you find the right person."