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10/10/07

Should Teens Have Credit Cards?

A teen should have a credit card in order to teach him/her about financial responsibility. Of all the subjects we learn in school, we are never taught about finances, credit, or money management. This lesson is usually left to our parents. The problem with this is that many parents are not qualified to teach their children about money management. Therefore, the children walk blindly down the financial road only to meet numerous pitfalls and debt traps. One way to combat this potential for financial failure is to teach children about money management.

I use the term “children” loosely. I am not advocating that you sit your six old down and tell him/her about interest rates, credit scores, and investment risk. Absent you child being a financial prodigy, a six year old will not understand any of these subjects. However, once your child reaches fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen, lessons about financial independence should begin. I advocate these ages because these are the ages when most teens get their first job.

Bill Gates could lecture you about “how to become a billionaire,” but none of the information will be useful unless you can put the information into action. I feel the same way about teens and credit. You could lecture your teen about how credit cards work, the importance of timely payments, credit limits, and credit scores, but until a teen actually uses the card and pays a bill, he/she will never fully grasp the principles of this important financial tool. This does not mean that you should drop a $10,000 limit gold card into your teen’s hands and tell him/her to “go nuts.” However, there are many credit cards with a $300 - $500 limit that should be used as the teaching card. This amount is high enough so that your teen could actually use it, but low enough so that if your teen has a job, he/she will not get into trouble.

The credit lesson has to be taught carefully and slowly. It is very easy to lose track of how much you are spending with a credit card. Therefore, it is vital that a teen learn that a credit card is not a substitute for cash. Meaning, if you cannot afford to buy something, you should not put it on your credit card.

Teens should have credit, but only as a privilege used as a tool for financial education. A credit card, like a driver’s license, is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, teens should first be educated, and then be allowed the privilege of credit card use. They should always start small and SLOWLY build their credit limit. As a parent, you can always monitor your teen’s credit use to insure that your teen is using credit correctly.

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