The Balance’s Top Finance Trends of 2021

The 10 most searched topics on The Balance, from bitcoin mining to RV loans

Woman taking a photo whilst sitting on roof of camper at sunset
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2021 may have felt like a rough continuation of 2020, with the pandemic dragging on, rising inflation, and the U.S. government narrowly avoiding another shutdown while ending various COVID-19 relief programs. 

As economic volatility shook the markets and our wallets, millions of readers turned to The Balance for guidance. Here, we take a look at some of the most popular searches our readers made throughout the year, as measured by spikes in traffic compared to the average Balance article that month. 

Bitcoin Mining

Bitcoin mining came in as our most popular topic of 2021, seeing the most consistent interest and overall traffic throughout the year. Interest in bitcoin has been on the rise as the price of the cryptocurrency has surged in 2021. Along with its price, our article on how to mine bitcoin spiked 122% in May, when bitcoin started to rise from its April low of $49,000. Bitcoin would eventually rally to more than $58,000 that month, before plummeting to around $34,000 near the end of the month.

U.S. National Debt

America’s national debt and the debt limit came into focus this past fall when members of Congress failed to negotiate a deal on funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. For months, Republicans refused to approve the extra spending, citing concerns it would increase the national debt. 

Legislators ended up passing stop-gap measures to fund the government and temporarily raise the debt ceiling not just once, but twice. In the end, the U.S. avoided a government shutdown and defaulting on its debts (which it has never done and would cause a financial crisis). Our readers also had concerns about the national debt, flocking to our article on the topic in October. 

Best Long-Term Stocks

The start of the year saw large gains in meme stocks (see the next term for more on this) which prompted concerns that average retail investors were going to get hurt in the newly volatile market. Cue conversations on long-term investing (holding a stock for at least a year) and the best stocks investors should consider adding to their portfolios.

While it might be appealing to chase thousands of dollars in dogecoin gains, long-term investments usually outperform investors who try to time the market for quick wins.

Meme Stocks

Memes aren’t just for social media—they also played a big hand in investing this year. Meme stocks are stocks that have gained viral popularity on social media platforms like Reddit, which then increases their value, with no correlation to the health of the underlying company. Meme stocks typically see dramatic increases in value over a very short period of time.

Our top article on meme stocks got a surge of reader interest in June of this year, following months of increased social media interest in companies like GameStop and AMC. 

Stock Shorting

Stock shorting became a popular trend in January this year, with this article getting 319% more readers than an average Balance article, thanks to increased interest in shorting after the GameStop shares skyrocketed thanks to what’s called a “short squeeze.”

Typically when you invest in a stock, you believe that the value of the stock will increase over time. But when you short a stock, you believe the opposite, and are betting that the price of the stock will decrease. 

When large investment firms placed shorts against the videogame retailer, retail investors rallied to buy more shares of GameStop, causing the price to increase, and creating a “short squeeze” for the investment firms, costing them millions. 

Tapering

The U.S. central bank (the Federal Reserve) has a very important job: to keep the economy on track and growing. 

When the economy struggles or the cost of goods gets too high, the Federal Reserve (also known as the Fed) has a few tools in its toolkit to help the economy along. One of those tools is buying asset-backed securities like bonds. This is called quantitative easing, or QE. Quantitative easing helps pump billions of dollars into the economy, and is used when the economy is struggling, much like the U.S. economy was during the pandemic.  

But the Fed can’t do this forever, and at some point has to slow down the amount of securities it buys, a process known as “tapering.” Tapering came into focus in August this year—when The Balance saw a spike in searches for this term—when Fed Chair Jay Powell mentioned that tapering could happen “this year.”

At the most recent Fed meeting, the Fed predicted three interest rate hikes in 2022 and said it would begin to aggressively taper its bond buying program. 

Tapering, and even talking about tapering, can cause volatility in the stock market. Balance readers took a major jump into this article in August, driving a 476% surge.

Unemployment Taxes

Many Americans received unemployment benefits last year as the government provided extra assistance thanks to the impact of the pandemic. 

But with that extra assistance came a lot of questions: How are unemployment benefits taxed? Is unemployment considered a “salary”? That question came sharply into focus ahead of the 2021 tax season, when it trended in February, well before the April tax deadline (which was extended until May this year).

Typically, the government treats unemployment benefits as income and expects taxpayers to pay income taxes on the money received. However, the rule changed for unemployment benefits received in 2020, impacting 2021 tax returns. Unfortunately for those receiving unemployment assistance, the government didn’t tweak the rule again this year, meaning that taxpayers should expect to pay full taxes on their 2021 unemployment benefits when they’re due in April 2022.

RV Loans

The Balance saw an interesting travel trend this year: increased interest in recreational vehicle (RV) loans. Our leading article on the topic spiked to a high of nearly 75% above average traffic on The Balance in August.

With the pandemic ongoing, many Americans wanted to travel (and escape their homes) but didn’t feel comfortable taking planes or trains. Many people turned to RVs as a safe and fun new way to see the country. A study from Kampgrounds of America found that RV ownership increased this year, and noted that “interest in RVs and the RV lifestyle is at an all-time high.”

Online Payments

Retailers have seen big demand for their online offerings—a 2020 trend that spilled into 2021— and with it, people want to know all the ways they can pay for goods online.

Questions about online payments (in particular, the use of Paypal on Amazon) surged during the holiday season this year, popping a staggering 765% in November.

Section 8 Eligibility

Section 8 is a common term used to describe housing benefits and assistance for individuals and families that meet certain criteria. Many Americans have faced homelessness or struggled with housing, as the pandemic caused millions to lose their jobs and sources of income. 

Balance readers this year had questions about eligibility for the program, leading this article to  peak at 37% more readers than average in the month of September. In September, the White House announced steps to increase the number of affordable housing options to Americans.