Letting your kid “graduate” from handling cash to carrying a debit card can be a big milestone in a family’s life. After all, handing over that shiny piece of plastic is a signal that your child or teen is moving to a new stage in their financial life.
If you’re still the primary owner on your child’s debit card—which you really should be, as a parent—your child’s financial life is still on training wheels. However, you’re allowing your child or teen to begin making some more independent decisions with their money.
So how do you know if your kid is ready for debit card? First, you know your own child. You’re the best judge of their maturity level and spending habits. However, if you’re a bit on the fence about a child or teen prepaid debit card, here are some good readiness indicators:
1. They’ve successfully handled cash for a year or two.
It’s actually not a great idea to give kids debit cards until they’ve had some hands-on time with cash. Financial expert Dave Ramsey suggests a cash practice period, too. Why? You want proof that your kids fully understand the value of money and the concept that “when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Kids and teens also need some experience separating actual cash and coins into at least the three basic categories of Spending, Saving and Giving. Using separate jars or envelopes for this task gives kids a visual picture of the budgeting process.
On the other hand, if you let kids start their money lives with debit cards, money may not seem as real to them. Plus, their funds are all lumped together into a single account they think of as “mine to spend.” So be sure give kids and teens a solid cash training period before upgrading them to debit cards.
2. They can keep track of their belongings.
Carrying a debit card is a privilege and a responsibility. Kids who constantly lose things, from their coats to their phones, may not be ready for one. Today’s EMV chips do make it much harder for thieves to use lost/stolen debit cards, since they also need to enter a PIN code to complete transactions. However, who wants the hassle of dealing with a lost debit card?
Wait until you see signs that your kids can keep their valuables safe. However, if your kid does lose a debit card, be sure you know how to quickly “freeze” it so thieves can’t use it. Greenlight makes it easy: Simply log into your mobile app and turn off the card. Then let us know that you need a replacement card.
3. Your kids responsibly handle “school bucks.”
Many schools let you load funds onto kids’ ID cards to pay for school lunches and snacks. Unfortunately, you may already have dealt with that shocking first semester when your middle-schooler drains all their prepaid lunch money by buying extra junk food or feeding their ravenous friends.
This experience isn’t unusual and it doesn’t mean your kid is a financial deadbeat. However, it is a sign that they don’t fully understand the responsibility of having funds attached to a card. So first, talk to your kids about your expectations for how they spend lunch money. And wait on the debit card until your kids prove they can spend their school bucks carefully.
4. Your kids need to be able to make purchases on their own.
For many kids, this is about the same time they get a cell phone. You’re no longer with them 24/7. They’re getting more independent, so you give them a cell phone to get in touch while you’re apart. Entrusting them with a debit card so they can buy a movie ticket or get lunch with friends can also be a nice convenience.
5. Your kids need to buy things that cost more than a latte.
If your teen is doing his own back-to-school shopping, he’s going to need to carry more in his wallet than, say, $5. When your kid starts carrying enough cash that it makes you a bit nervous, that’s the time to consider a special child or teen prepaid debit card. The safety factor alone may be worth it.
6. Your kids start asking questions about debit cards.
Now, no one is implying that kids who show interest in cards automatically are ready for them. However, kids’ questions often are good indicators of changes in their development. A kid who asks about debit cards may be starting to notice how you use your debit card, or may see friends getting debit cards, and be curious.
This is a great time to open the discussion about when and why you will allow them to start using a debit card. Even if your child isn’t quite ready for a card, use this time to show them how you responsibly use your card, how you check your account balances, and to talk about the big difference between debit an credit cards. By the time your kid is ready for a card, they’ll be well versed in how to use it with care.
If you’re ready to teach your kids to be financially independent, check out the Greenlight Debit Card for Kids here to learn more!
(photo courtesy © NASA Goddard cc2.0)