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How Credit Cards Can Teach Kids About Money

[Sunday, August 9th, 2015]

If you grew up in a certain generation, your parents – or maybe your grandparents – may have told you that using a credit card wasn’t a good idea. This old-fashioned school of thought, that using credit cards is irresponsible or dangerous, has been phased out for the most part today. Credit cards are seen as the important financial tool they are; something every adult should carry, not only in case of emergency, but also for everyday use.

However, some people still neglect to teach their children the basics of responsible credit card use. If you have kids, teaching them how to use a credit card is as important as teaching them to use a washing machine or boil pasta. That is to say, it’s essential. Teaching your kids about credit cards is part of teaching them financial literacy, and can teach them about other aspects of money as well. Here are five ways that learning about credit cards helps kids learn about money:

1. Credit cards make it easy to keep track of spending. Using a credit card for most or all of your purchases means you’re creating a log of your spending that you’ll be able to look back on and analyze. When you pay for things with cash, you either need to write down your spending in a budgeting program or notebook, or hang on to a bunch of receipts. Either one is a pain. Put it on plastic and have a snapshot of your spending at the end of each month, easily accessed via your credit card issuer’s online account center, or on a paper statement.
2. Credit cards teach responsible spending. When you use a credit card, you’re not getting something for free, however much it might feel like it. You need to pay that money back at the end of the statement period – or face the consequences, in the form of interest owed. Learning to only spend what you can afford to pay back is a great benefit to using a credit card.
3. Paying credit cards off on time teaches kids about accountability. Knowing when payments are due, being able to afford to pay the amount due by the due date, and always being on time with payments are great lessons for kids. This teaches them to be accountable to the calendar, their bank balance, and their credit card issuer.
4. Credit cards offer a great math lesson about percentages and interest. Teach your kids what APR stands for (annual percentage rate) and how it’s calculated. Learning about interest is a good math lesson in itself, aside from the lesson about responsibility that you want to impart, when your kids realize that not paying off the credit card on time means paying extra in the end.
5. Reading comprehension skills are tested and sharpened by studying terms and conditions. Learning to interpret fine print is a life skill that many of us would do well to work on, even as adults. Go over the terms and conditions on a credit card agreement with your child and quiz him or her afterward. You might both learn something!

Once your child is 13, get a reloadable prepaid card as sort of “training wheels” for an unsecured consumer credit card later. This can go a long way toward giving your child invaluable financial skills for life

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