Credit Cards: How Young Is Too Young?


Like it or not, credit makes the world go round (well, it used to), and teaching children to use credit responsibly is an important job for a parent (and that is still true).

At what age is it appropriate for kids to have their own credit cards? 9? 16? 37?

Only a parent can judge if their child has the maturity level to handle a credit card, but here are four things you should keep in mind:

1. Just because your kid can get a credit card doesn’t mean she should. These days a parent can get a credit card for their kid, even when they are in elementary school. Obviously, it doesn’t make any sense to do that, but what about in junior high school? By freshman year, more than one in three high school students are using charge cards, according to a 2008 survey by Jumpstart Coalition.

Establishing credit as a teenager is useful when it comes time to take out student loans for college, but responsibility is key. If your kid blows through her allowance every month and constantly asks for more money, a credit card might be a bad idea. Instead of focusing on chronological age, think more about whether your kid has the mental maturity to handle the responsibility of a credit card.

2. When in doubt, start slow.
The best way to figure out if your kid is ready to have a credit card is to dole out the financial responsibility in small portions. Start with a checking account. Teach your kid to make a deposit, balance a checkbook and avoid fees. If your kid has a cell phone, make him responsible for paying the bill each month and check that it gets paid. Teaching basic money management skills is essential to teaching children to use credit wisely.

3. Credit cards aren’t the only types of plastic. Before letting your kid jump into borrowing, let them get used to wielding plastic in a less risky way. Debit cards and prepaid credit cards offer many of the same benefits and conveniences as credit cards, but they can’t do any real damage to a credit report.

4. Provide credit card guidance. Once you and your child have decided it’s safe to get an unsecured credit card, sit down and talk about minimum payments, compounded interest and what happens when a payment is missed. Go over your kids’ credit card statements with them to discuss how they are spending their money. And lead by example, which is the best way to keep your charges' charges in line.


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