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Teaching Children About Credit: Step Two

By Philip Tirone

Last week, I told you Step One of my plan for teaching children about credit.

This week, we’ll talk about the next step.

Allow your children to make pre-approved and controlled purchases using the authorized user account you established for them during Step One.

By giving your children access to the physical credit card and allowing them to make purchases, and then insisting they pay their bill at month’s end, you will go a long way toward teaching children about credit.

And if they make mistakes, push their budgets, and cannot pay their bills, even better! Let me explain.

I’ll start by putting into perspective exactly how this step works. Depending on your family’s finances and level of comfort, you can allow your child to make as large or as small of a purchase as you want, so long as:

1) The purchase does not push your utilization rate over 30 percent; and

2) You can pay the amount in full if your child is unable to do so by month’s end.

The important thing is that you insist your child pay interest on any payments that are not made in full by month’s end.

And if your children want to buy something you suspect they will be unable to pay back within a month’s time, I suggest you allow them to learn a lesson by making a mistake, so long as you are prepared to pay the bill at the end of the month. This financial expense will be worth the valuable lesson you will be teaching children about credit.

Obviously, we want our children to be responsible all of them time. But the reality is that they will make mistakes when learning something new. Wouldn’t you rather that they have already made a few mistakes in the safety of your home? I know I want my children to know what constitutes a high interest rate and how much debt they can reasonably carry without hurting their pocketbook. I want them to plan for paying off whatever debt they might accumulate. And I don’t expect them to simply stumble into this knowledge.

They will need to learn it somewhere, and this starts by allowing them to make mistakes along the way.

Consider two scenarios. In the first scenario, your daughter leaves for college without ever having experienced use of a credit card. On her first day of school, she walks by a booth in which a credit card company is promising approval. Your daughter signs up on the spot and receives a $500 credit limit on her first credit card.

The next week, she receives another credit card in the mail. She didn’t sign up for it, it just arrived. This credit card has a $1,000 credit limit. During the first week, your daughter goes on a shopping spree and maxes out her credit cards. And then she receives the bills, which have a minimum payment of $30 each.

She puts them on her desk and forgets about them. After all, she does not have a system of paying bills, and she is short on cash. The next month, her minimum payment on each card is $135, which includes the original $30 minimum payment, the next month’s minimum payment, and a $40 late payment. As well, because the late payment and interest have pushed her over the limit, she now has a $35 over-the-limit fee on each card.

Within one month, your daughter’s finances suddenly became desperate. She doesn’t have an extra $270 to pay both bills. What is she going to do? Turn to you to bail her out? Ignore the situation until it is turned over to a collection company? Hopefully, she will come to you for help, but regardless, the situation is not ideal.

Now consider the second scenario whereby you took a proactive approach to teaching children about credit. Your daughter is 16 and asks you if she can buy a DVD that costs $49.99. Because you can afford to pay the $49.99 added expense regardless of whether your daughter pays you back, you give her the credit card for this one purchase and tell her that she must pay you in full by month’s end or you will charge interest and a late payment fee. You explain that interest will be 29.99 percent, the typical interest rate assigned to new credit users, and the late payment is $40.

Because you want your daughter to experience the situation as it would play out in the real world, you send her one email notice, letting her know that the bill is due in one month’s time. Then you don’t speak to your daughter about the debt until the first day of the following month. You learn that your daughter forgot to make the payment. She now owes $49.99 for the DVD, plus $1.25 in interest and a $40 late payment fee—a combined total of $91.24.

Because you are committed to teaching children about credit, you sit her down and review the rules of credit card companies, showing her evidence that your terms are reasonable. In fact, you explain that in the real world, she is also over the preapproved limit that you, the creditor, set—$49.99. In the real world, she would also have to pay an over-the-limit fee, which would bring her total to about $126.24.

If she was unable to pay that balance down to at least $49.99, she would be charged an over-the-limit fee for each subsequent month as well. Tack on compounding interest and that $49.99 DVD is going to cost your child $196.24 in a few shorts months.

Instead, you offer your child a deal. She pays the $91.24, plus monthly interest, in three monthly installments, and you waive the over-the-limit fee. Next time, you won’t be so generous. Like any creditor, you will stay on top of her about making the payment. You might even call her cell phone early in the morning on a weekend to make sure she is planning to pay the bill on time.

Your daughter has just learned an important lesson in a safe environment in which you can protect your credit and her credit at the same time. So when she walks by that booth on the college campus, she will be better educated to make good decisions about credit habits.

How Often Should I Allow My Child to Use the Authorized User Accounts?

The answer to this question is as individual as the child. The frequency at which your children ask to use the authorized user accounts is a good indication of how responsible they are. If your children ask a few times a year and always pay the bills in full, you can be fairly certain that they are responsible with credit. If they ask a few times a month and often have trouble paying the bill in full at month’s end, then you probably want to grant access less frequently, making sure that one debt is paid in full before another line of credit is granted.

You will also want to spend time on subsequent steps making sure you are teaching children about credit education.

Related Articles

Teaching Children About Credit: An Introduction

Teaching Children About Credit: Step One

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