Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Coach Teens To Avoid Sharing Money Confessions On Social Media

Facebook Confessional

Today, a young man posted the following in a popular personal finance group on Facebook:

“Does anyone have any real experiences with audits on HSA accounts? Does it happen? I’m realizing now that I may have made some deductions on some ‘unqualified expenses’.”

This fellow just announced to the world that he may owe the IRS back taxes and a hefty 20% penalty because he used his Health Savings Account to pay for something he shouldn’t have.

While it’s laudable if he wants to correct his potential mistake, a public electronic forum isn’t a smart place to be making financial confessions attached to your real name.


  • It’s a public invitation for an audit. He may as well have posted: “IRS: please audit me.’ Someday, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that IRS computers are mining public social media data to automatically identify audit candidates. Maybe they already are — like bill collectors. An audit is never a pleasant process, whether innocent or not. Better to determine how to correct your tax mistakes in private than publicly invite an audit.
  • It’s a public invitation for scammers. This fellow may now receive Facebook messages from people trying to take advantage of his ignorance: “Pay me $X, and I’ll fix the problem for you.” Or, worse, extortionists: “Pay me $X, or I’ll turn you into the IRS.”

A better approach?

  1. Do some basic research. A simple web search turned up some quick answers to his underlying question — like this article: What If You Use Your Health Savings Debit Card For Take-Out?
  2. Consult a trusted advisor. Once armed with some preliminary findings, follow up with a certified tax professional for some expert advice. In private.

The message for your kids: just because it’s easy to ask a personal financial question on social media doesn’t mean you should. Financial confessions belong in private, not on Facebook.

Want to turn these tips into action? Check out


  1. This was In a closed group... You're wrong by making it public...

  2. Roxanne, my point is that "closed" Facebook groups really aren't private - really anyone can join and when you post, you really have no idea where the info is going. The posts get blasted out to all members as clear text email notifications which in turn can be forwarded anywhere. That's not where you want to be sharing financial details that you'd prefer remain private.

  3. Note also that there is no personally identifiable info in this post. I only refer anonymously to "a young man posted the following in a popular personal finance group on Facebook." The initial post had a screenshot of the post, but all personally identifiable info was carefully blurred out.