- My parents taught me how to use a credit card responsibly by adding me as an authorized user.
- I decided to do the same for my daughter when she was 12, but she must ask to use the card.
- My parents’ lessons stuck with me — I’ve never had credit card debt, and I hope my daughter won’t either.
Since 2008, I’ve made a living writing about personal finance, specializing in credit cards, consumer credit, and travel rewards. When I started this career, my wife and I had just one child, an infant daughter. Today, she’s 14 years old, and she has a younger sister and brother.
At this point, we’ve already started teaching our oldest child about how to use a credit card responsibly, and we have a pretty good idea about what this education will look like as she and her siblings get older. If everything goes according to plan, it will look much like the education my parents gave me and my sisters when it came to credit cards.
How I learned about credit cards
When I was in my young teens, my parents made me an authorized user on one of their credit cards. This way, I wouldn’t have to carry cash, and could still make purchases. However, I had to ask permission before using the credit card. For example, if my parents dropped me off at the movie theater, they might allow me to purchase a ticket, but tell me that I could only buy up to a certain amount of popcorn or snacks. And if I was at the mall and wanted to buy a new pair of sneakers, they would have to agree to it first.
At the end of the month, my parents would receive their credit card bill in the mail, and go over any charges with me. They would show me how they wrote out a check for the full statement balance in order to avoid interest charges. All the time, they would caution me against carrying a balance and incurring debt.
By the time I was in college, I was old enough to become the primary account holder for my own credit cards. Nevertheless, I received constant reminders from my parents to always avoid interest charges by paying my balances in full. I even remember being quite frustrated at my mother for hammering me on this point over and over again.
But it worked. I’ve always paid my statement balances in full, and I’ve never incurred interest charges. I’ve learned to use my credit cards merely as a method of payment, and I’ve never charged anything that I couldn’t afford to pay for at the end of the month.
How many personal finance experts, and millions of others, learned about credit cards
When I first started writing about credit cards, and meeting my fellow personal finance professionals, it became pretty clear that my experiences were not common. Many of my peers who were writing about personal finance brought with them an epic backstory of debt, enlightenment, recovery, and prosperity.
Plenty of prominent personal finance bloggers came to this field only after a youthful period of being irresponsible with their credit cards and other forms of debt. Later, they learned how costly it was to perpetually incur debt, and they began to retire the balances that they had accrued, largely in college and as young adults. The journey typically concludes with them showing their readers how to use credit cards responsibly. Alternatively, some bloggers end up imploring their readers to simply avoid credit altogether.
But for better or worse, I never had those experiences, and I only know how to teach my children and inform my readers to use credit responsibly, without having a personal story to illustrate what happens when you don’t.
My children are all learning about money and credit in age-appropriate ways
My little ones, ages 6 and 9, enjoy carrying around a wallet with just their student ID, and maybe a merchant gift card or two. When our oldest daughter was 12, my wife and I decided that it was time to make her an authorized user on my World of Hyatt credit card. Letting her have her own card allows her to make purchases when she’s not with us, and it even helps her to build her nascent credit history and
We chose this card for a few reasons. First, it was a card that we had mostly for its benefits, and didn’t use for our day-to-day charges. This made it easy for us to determine which charges were hers. Also, this card offers double points for charges at restaurants and at gyms, the two places where she makes most of her charges. And like most cards, there’s no additional fee for adding an authorized user.
Chase, like Citi, Capital One, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, has no minimum age for adding an authorized user. In contrast Amex and Barclays require additional cardholders to be 13, Discover requires them to be 15, and you must wait until your children are 16 for them to be an authorized cardholder with a US Bank credit card.
Just as I was brought up, my daughter will ask me before she uses her card for dining, entertainment, or clothing purchases. She also uses her card to enroll in rock climbing competitions at our local gym and others, always with our permission and support.
I hope my children will get as much out of their cards as I have
As our children get older, we’ll be glad that they have a credit card with them when they drive and when they travel. I’ll also start showing them how credit card statements work, and how they are paid. Because we enjoy traveling, I’m always happy to share with our children our strategies for earning points and miles from our credit cards. And when each of our children turn 18, I’ll be excited to have them apply for their own card, and to help them to manage it responsibly. Just like my mom did with me, I’m sure I’ll call them up regularly to make sure that they’re never carrying a balance.