Teens & Credit: A Recipe for Disaster

by Rebecca Lindsey

Ahhh, school days. Reading, writing, and rooting for your school football team. Hanging out at the mall and surfing the web. Ok, so things have changed a little since you were in school. The current generation of teenagers now has more purchasing power than ever, and companies are spending millions of dollars to get your teen to pay attention to their products.

If you're like most American families, your teenager has some sort of income, be it an allowance or a job. The problem: how do you teach your child about money, before they "invest" it all into the current fad? Believe it or not, the solution may be a credit card.

Once upon a time, giving a teenager a credit card was laughable, if not impossible. However, now there are several cards available just for teens. Options such as parental control and digital allowances serve to let parents participate in their teen's initial journey through the world of credit. Although the thought of your teenager with a credit card in their back pocket might cause you to break into a cold sweat, there are some good reasons why this could be a great educational experience for your child, as well as yourself.

Money Management 101. The sooner your teen learns about the reality of credit, the better. Teach your teen basic lessons about how credit works, including how interest rates can quickly double or even triple the original price of an item. Rather than giving your teen free reign to purchase anything he or she wants, help your teen establish a budget and a sense of financial responsibility. A good source for teaching students about credit and how it works is StudentCredit.com.

Foundations for Good Credit. By providing your teen with early money management skills, you set them up for an easy transition into the world of adult credit. A recent survey of adults sponsored by the InCharge Institue of America highlights the need for education. About half of the respondents claim that they were never taught about credit by their parents. When teens leave home for college or work, they will be bombarded with credit card offers. Another survey conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, claims that credit cards held by college students in 1998 had an average unpaid balance of $968. A sound knowledge of credit will make your teen aware of the potential pitfalls of "too good to resist" credit offers. An early start can also help your teen to establish good credit, giving him or her countless advantages when they're on their own looking to purchase a car or a house.

Security. Another advantage is the feeling of security you have in knowing that your teen has a back up in emergency situations.

Visa introduced a new product geared toward teens that is called the Visa Buxx card. The Buxx card has sparked a great deal of discussion and debate about the merits of allowing teens access to electronic forms of payment. The card is basically a prepaid debit card, according to Michelle Singletary, a personal finance writer with the Washington Post. Visa has embarked on a marketing campaign to promote the Buxx card and bills the card as a "parent-controlled reloadable payment card". The card is issued by many large banks and may come with an annual fee and transaction fees. Fees vary from bank to bank.

There are other cards available that fall under the "digital allowance" category; these cards allow teens to purchase items online without a credit card. By using a credit card to set up an account for their child, parents can limit the amount of money spent, where their teen can shop, and other interactions that are available.

Should you decide that it's time to teach your child the golden rules about credit, you will want to investigate the types of cards available. This will help you match your teen with a card that meets his - and your- needs. With thorough research and responsible teaching, you can make your teen's entrance into the financial world smooth, fun, and successful. Go team!

Updated August 2013

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