When you think about what to teach your kids about money, chances are that credit cards aren’t high on your list of necessary lessons. In fact, many parents would just as soon not teach their kids about paying with plastic. However, well-intentioned that approach might be, the reality is that your child probably needs to know how to interact with plastic if he or she is going to grow up to be able to handle money appropriately.
Help your child understand debit and credit
You don’t need to encourage your child to use credit cards and get into debt in order to help him or her understand the appropriate use of plastic. It’s a good idea to approach the subject, though, and let your children know that there is a difference between debit and credit, and that they should avoid debt. Introducing them to plastic during their teen years can help them prepare for a world that increasingly does not make use of cash or check.
Talk about the difference between debit and credit. My son is 12 years old, and he understands the difference. We talk about how a debit card is plastic that connects directly to your bank account. When you swipe the card, it comes from money you already have. Also talk about how credit is different; it’s a loan. You are using money you might not have. In either case, the important thing is to encourage your child to keep track of what he or she spends using plastic, and encourage your child only to spend money he or she already has.
Learning to manage plastic
If you can get your child a debit card attached to a joint checking account, you can begin to help him or her learn to track his or her spending while using plastic. Because spending with plastic (whether it’s debit or credit) tends to encourage less mindfulness, getting your child in the habit of tracking spending is a big step forward.
In some states, you can get a debit card for your child when he or she is 16 years old, as long as it is for a joint account. Other states and banks, though, may not let minors get debit cards. If this is the case, a prepaid debit card isn’t a completely terrible idea. Look for a card that doesn’t charge outrageous fees. American Express has some reasonably priced prepaid debit cards.
When your child uses any sort of plastic, make sure that he or she records what is being spent. You can use pen and paper, or you can use personal finance software on the computer. I’ve already got an account set up for my son in our personal finance software so he can see where he stands, and keep track of where his money is going.
Plastic (or, more likely, payment via cell phone) is the wave of the future. Teaching your children to manage their money in a world where they aren’t likely to count out cash is an important skill. That way, they can learn to pay attention to spending, and avoid the pitfalls of plastic later.