Teaching kids about credit is crucial to their financial education. An excellent credit score can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Good credit will help keep lower interest rates with mortgages, student loans, and car loans.
Typically credit is a lesson best learned when they are teenagers. That’s when they may start to apply for credit cards for themselves. However, before we get to the teens, let’s cover a few credit thoughts for younger kids.
Credit for Tweens
My kids are now eight and ten years old. They’ve had a credit card to build a credit history for several years. They don’t know about it, but each is an authorized user on my Amazon Prime credit card. Sometimes credit card companies need kids to be a minimum age, but I didn’t run into this problem with the Amazon Prime card. I keep the physical cards in a desk drawer. Perhaps I should use them to make sure they are building credit. Maybe I should even look at my kids’ credit reports. There are some horror stories about identity theft of kids’ information. At this point, I’m just trying to get them a headstart. I’m probably the weird parent who is nutty enough to think of this stuff when they are so young.
Secondly, I have recently gotten them FamZoo debit cards. These will get them used to using a card instead of cash. I’ll post a FamZoo review soon, but I want to learn more about how it works. I explained the difference between debit vs. credit cards. The FamZoo debit card seems like a credit card if you are a kid, though. It’s physically the same thing. Perhaps more importantly, I like the FamZoo solution because it automates giving an allowance and kids can start making money mistakes. Too often, kids think that money is “locked” in a bank.
Credit for Teens
Young adults in high school should start using their first credit card. Don’t let their first credit card experience be in college. Teaching kids good money habits are impossible when they are on their own. They’ll be swamped in college, and it will be tough to avoid late payments. You’ll want a couple of years to review credit card bills together and ensure they are paid in full each month to avoid fees.
One way to get kids to move from a debit card to a credit card is by introducing them to rewards cards. When I was a teen, I got interested in credit cards because I could earn points on Sony stuff. If credit cards didn’t offer me generous reward perks, I’d probably just use a debit card.
Credit card companies probably won’t give your kids a very high credit limit – lenders don’t want to take a big risk. That’s what you want – teens shouldn’t be making many purchases. Building credit can be done slowly.
Parents should explain the risks of credit. It’s not just about the late fees but how compound interest works against you. Before you teach kids about credit, they should be taught compound interest. When teaching them the risks, give them examples of how 15% interest grows over time. You might want first to show off how great earning 15% interest would be. We’ve all seen charts showing how 7-8% interest grows over many years. Chances are that seeing 15% grow will get them excited. Then you can pull the rug out from under them and say that they’ll be PAYING all that money for nothing if they don’t pay off their card every month. Maybe they’ll want to become a loan shark.
When parents think about financial literacy, they rarely think about teaching kids credit. Instead, they focus on saving money. Saving money is very important, but there’s a lot more for kids to learn to round out their financial education. Take some time to give your kids an understanding of how credit works.
Brian MacFarland has reached more than 10 million people on his personal finance journey to financial independence. He’s been featured in the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, and Lifehacker.
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