credit & debt

What Teens Need to Know About Credit

Don't bog kids down with details. You'll make a more lasting impression if you start by teaching these six essentials.

When it comes to teaching young people about credit, there's no shortage of ideas on what to tell them.

In its DVD College Credit for Life, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling encourages students to shop for a card based on annual percentage rate, length of the grace period and how the balance is calculated.

The JumpStart Coalition suggests that you let your tweens and teens examine your credit report, and that you and your kids read the terms and conditions on a credit-card statement.

That's all great stuff, especially for young adults who are actually applying for credit cards. But you don't want to inundate tweens and high school students with so many details that their eyes glaze over. To make a lasting impression, focus on the big picture and the basics.

For instance, let kids know that people who use credit cards spend more compared with those who use cash or checks. One study found that customers at fast-food restaurants spend 50% more when they pay with plastic rather than cash, says Baylor University marketing professor James A. Roberts, who studies credit usage.

Other things that adults understand but kids often don't:

  • Credit cards are not free money. By definition they're "credit" cards, meaning that when you use them you're borrowing money from the issuer.

  • The card issuer charges interest. Kids know that banks pay interest on savings accounts, but they're not always aware that banks charge interest -- at a much higher rate -- when you take out a loan.

  • Don't max out your credit. Young people are more likely than older adults to charge up to their credit limit. But to get a top credit score, it's best to hold your charges to 25% of your credit limit, or even less.

  • Pay your bills on time. Credit issuers are watching how you handle your cards, and paying late is the worst black mark on your record. (Learn more about what impacts your credit history.)

  • Blots on your credit record can affect your ability to get a job, rent an apartment, buy a car or get a cell phone. See Why Your Credit Score Matters for more info.

  • Pay your bill in full each month, if you can, and always pay more than the minimum. Use our online calculator to show kids that, for example, if you pay $50 a month on a $2,000 balance at 18%, it will take more than five years to pay off the debt. Pay less than $30 a month and you'll never be out of debt.

Mom and Dad, share your personal experiences with your kids. They'll love to hear how you screwed up and then made things right. If you're still in credit trouble, take the opportunity to clean up your act. See Don't Let Debt Get You Down for help.

LAST WEEK: Best Time for First Credit Card

Most Popular

The Perfect Storm for Retirees
retirement planning

The Perfect Storm for Retirees

Today’s retirees could face a perfect storm because they are living longer and spending more time in retirement, while at the same time losing access …
April 18, 2021
The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth
personal finance

The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth

For some down-to-earth, basic advice on money and life, I have a book to recommend: “Your Total Wealth: The Heart and Soul of Financial Literacy.”
April 17, 2021
Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs
Coronavirus and Your Money

Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs

People have lots of questions about the new $3,000 or $3,600 child tax credit and the advance payments that the IRS will send to most families in 2021…
April 14, 2021

Recommended

What You Need to Know about College 529 Savings Plans
529 Plans

What You Need to Know about College 529 Savings Plans

Do you know how much you’re able to contribute or what the funds could be used to pay for? How about how contributing affects your taxes? Check out th…
April 14, 2021
37 Ways to Earn Extra Cash in 2021
business

37 Ways to Earn Extra Cash in 2021

We flag a wide variety of cool side hustles to earn bonus bucks to cover expenses expected and unexpected as we begin to emerge from the pandemic lock…
April 8, 2021
The Hazards of Buy Now, Pay Later
Smart Buying

The Hazards of Buy Now, Pay Later

Breaking up payments can make a big purchase seem cheaper, which can tempt you to overspend.
March 31, 2021
Get Free Weekly Credit Reports for Another Year
Coronavirus and Your Money

Get Free Weekly Credit Reports for Another Year

Take advantage of the extension to check each report for errors or signs of fraudulent activity.
March 26, 2021