Being a parent is a tough job. Perhaps the toughest part of that job is teaching kids how to handle their finances responsibly.
Like it or not, money is a necessary part of life. Not knowing how to manage money often leads to burdensome debt. Using money wisely can unlock all sorts of doors, from higher education to world travel.
Parents should start teaching kids about money management as soon as they’re old enough to watch coins build up in a piggy bank. But these days, the world spends a lot more money on plastic than in cash.
As children get older, their financial education will need to include credit and debit cards. Because a debit card can’t sink its user into debt, it’s a great learning tool. Still, it’s up to parents to show them the ropes.
Teaching Kids to Do Debit Right
When it comes time to get your son or daughter a debit card, make sure it comes with a few key lessons. Walk them through:
While kids shouldn’t be splurging on Amazon, they’ll someday need to know how to shop safely online. Consider letting them order their own school supplies or their siblings’ birthday gifts. After an achievement, reward them by letting them spend their allowance online.
Start with the basics, like identifying a safe website. Remind them to close out of their browser after each shopping session, and to never store their card information in their browser. Tell them to regularly check their bank’s online dashboard for suspicious activity.
Debit and credit cards are popular targets for thieves. If your kid is going on a school trip, review best practices together. Tell them to only use their card at merchants they trust, to keep their card out of sight when it’s not in use, and to never travel alone.
Make sure, too, that your child has a backup way to pay. Not all merchants accept all cards, and you don’t want your kid to be stuck in a situation where he or she can’t pay for a purchase.
Dealing With Card Loss or Theft
If a card is lost or stolen, your kid can’t afford to ignore the issue. The longer the card is missing, the greater the potential for damage. Beyond the financial hit, lost cards can lead to identity theft.
Your child should know to call his or her bank as soon as possible. After explaining the situation, he or she should ask for it to be cancelled and reissued with new numbers.
Whatever happened, avoid punishing your kid. Otherwise, he or she may not be so quick to speak up next time.
Pick a Card, Not Any Card
No matter what your child’s age, picking the right debit card for them is critical. They’re not all created equal, so do some research to find one that best fits your family’s needs. Decide which of these five types of cards fits your family’s needs best:
With most traditional bank accounts, you can get a card that allows you to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you use an ATM not in your network, you might be charged a transaction fee with each withdrawal.
ATM cards are limited by their singular use. But if you use only cash for transactions, as many teens and young adults do, they’re great. They still allow withdrawal of only what’s in the bank account.
The age at which a kid can have a bank account varies. Typically, until they are 16 or 18, a parent will have to be a joint account holder. That’s not a bad thing: Parents can and should keep tabs on their child’s use of the account.
Prepaid Debit Card
A prepaid debit card isn’t linked to a bank account. Funds are loaded on the card at the point of sale; most, though not all prepaid debit cards are reloadable.
These cards are good options for kids without bank accounts who still want to make online purchases requiring plastic. They provide the protection of being unable to overspend the amount loaded on the card.
Prepaid debit cards can be purchased by kids under the age of 18, but most require parental consent. In most cases, a lost or stolen prepaid debit card can’t be replaced.
Visa or Mastercard Debit Card
With these debit cards, Visa or Mastercard process transactions and debit your linked bank account. Most issuers require account holders to be age 18 or older without a parent co-signer.
If you have an overdraft protection feature on your bank account, you can overspend with these debit cards. Keep that amount low so you or your kids can’t run up debt.
Online Debit Card
These days, some debit card issuers have gone online. Like traditional debit cards, these cards can be used at ATMs, swiped at retailers, and used for online purchases.
Some online debit cards come with linked savings accounts. Teach your kid to save with one that rounds up transactions to the nearest dollar, depositing the difference automatically into the savings account.
Kid-Friendly Debit Card
Designed for parents who want to teach their kids about using plastic, these cards offer parental controls beyond the balance in the account. These cards are generally available for use by kids ages six through 18.
Some, like Greenlight and Gohenry, allow parents to set which retailers the cards can be used at. FamZoo lets kids practice investing with parents paying interest on their savings. All of them can be monitored by parents via the app.
Debit cards aren’t toys. But while your kids might make a few mistakes, real-world use is the only way to learn financial responsibility.
Whatever card you choose for your kids, you’ll give them a leg up. A debit card can be a valuable tool in budgeting, saving, giving, and living within one’s means. And when it comes time to learn to use a credit card, their debit card usage will make the transition that much easier.