Unless parents decide to make a concerted effort to begin teaching children about credit, our nation’s children might become victims of a system that is deceptive, manipulative, and cloaked in mystery.
Our banks, educational institutions, and government officials do not make information about credit easily accessible. They do not tell us that no credit is as bad as poor credit. They do not tell us that we might be unable to rent an apartment or secure a job if our credit card scores are low. They do not tell us that we could pay thousands of extra dollars in interest if we have a mistake on our credit report.
Banks and educational institutions certainly do not think it is their responsibility to conquer the critical task of teaching children about credit.
Because of all of this, parents would be wise to start teaching children about credit when they are young. Otherwise, parents might be sending children into a world that measures reputation by a three-digit credit score without a wink of knowledge about handling credit responsibly.
Moreover, teaching children about credit, as well as how to manage credit, will help parents raise financially responsible adults, and it will open doors for children.
When people attend my teleseminar about how to build credit, they are always shocked when they first hear my method for teaching children about credit: I think you should add your children as authorized users to one of your credit card account, so long as it is in good standing.
I know this makes me sound crazy, so let me explain.
By adding your children as authorized users to an existing credit card account, you will give your children the opportunity to “borrow” your good credit score, which means their credit scores will begin to increase.
At the same time, you can guard your credit by keeping credit cards away from your children. When you establish your children as authorized users, most credit card companies will send your children credit cards. You can request that the credit card company not issue a card to your children, or you can shred the credit card when it arrives. In this way, your children’s credit scores will benefit from the behavior on your account, and your credit will be protected. (When choosing the account to which you’ll add your children as authorized users, be sure to read my article—“The Magic of Authorized Users”—so you know all the ins and outs of this powerful strategy.)
Though I recommend that you add your children as authorized users before they turn 14 years old, you can add them at any age. After all, a two-year-old added as an authorized user will have 16 years of positive credit under his belt by the time he reaches adulthood.
The second part of teaching children about credit is to begin an educational platform whereby your children learn about interest rates, budgeting, savings, and credit scoring. Once your children begin demonstrating that they understand the value of money and are financially responsible, you might want to provide children with credit.
Start by establishing a “Bank of Mom and Dad.” If your son wants to buy something, lend him the money and create a weekly or monthly payment plan. Then insist on timely payments that include interest, just like a credit card company would do. If your child is late, assess a late payment fee as part of your strategy for teaching children about credit.
Once your child demonstrates continued financial responsibility, consider providing an actual credit card to your teenager. I suggest that you allow your child access to the card only long enough to hand it to a cashier, and only if you are present. This way, the child will not be able to memorize the credit card number, nor will he have prolonged access to your account.
As part of your strategy for teaching children about credit, make sure that your children pay interest and, if they exceed the prearranged limit or fail to make a payment by the due date, you should access an over-the-limit fine or late payment penalty. You should also insist that your children pay you instead of the credit card company. Because you are the primary cardholder, you can preserve your credit by making payments on the account regardless of whether your children are paying you.
When the credit card statements arrive, sit down with your children and explain the statements. Discuss your annual percentage rate, annual fees, late penalties, over-the-limit fines. Ask your children to verbalize their plans for paying their loans in a timely manner.
Expect your children to make mistakes, and help them create plans for correcting their mistakes. If they splurge and end up owing more than they can afford, perhaps they can do extra housework in exchange for an increased allowance. And, of course, teaching children about credit means that you call their cell phones—perhaps at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning—to inquire about any late payments!