My 12-year-old son recently told me that he couldn’t buy any food at the FredNats game he went to with his youth group. The stadium is cashless, and all he had was the twenty-dollar bill I sent with him. He was crushed, and I felt like I let him down.
This got me thinking. How do I prevent a situation like this from happening again to my son and how many other tweens and young teens have also been in this predicament—of not being old enough to have a credit card but old enough to do things without mom or dad?
So what is a tween or young teen to do? Legally, they cannot get a credit card of their own until they are at least 18 years old. I called my credit card companies–Capital One and Chase–and both have no minimum age for authorized users. Meaning, I can add him as an authorized user to my account when I feel he can handle charging responsibly, since how he uses credit may impact my credit score. I may consider this option when he gets older and has a job as it will help him build a credit score and history. This will also benefit him once he is old enough to apply for a credit card on his own.
Since I am not quite ready to add him as an authorized user, I looked into debit and prepaid cards specifically designed for kids. This can be an easy way to introduce tweens and young teens to credit card usage without the fear of overspending because they draw from preloaded money through a bank account or other funding source. I feel comfortable giving him a prepaid card since he can only spend the money available on the card. If it gets lost or stolen it isn’t the end of the world because it is not linked to my bank account. One example, GoHenry, is a prepaid card and financial tool for children aged between 6 and 18. Parents can access their child’s account using its app and topped many of the lists of similar cash cards.
Once my son proves he’s responsible with a prepaid card, I will most likely get him a debit card through our credit union. A debit card can be issued for a minor if a checking account has been opened and the joint owner requests it. Since children can’t open their own bank account until they reach the age of majority—18 years old in Virginia—parents can choose to open a subaccount from their own bank account to provide their child a card to use.
Modeling good spending habits and gradually introducing him to credit–prepaid card, bank debit card, and authorized user credit card–will hopefully teach him healthy financial habits that will help him when he turns 18 and the training wheels come off.
For now, my son is ecstatic about having a prepaid card in his pocket. It avoids unpleasant cashless situations and best of all he feels financially responsible.