In Four Baby Steps, Help Your Children Establish Their Own Credit Histories
by Celeste Lohrenz
A sound credit history can help you obtain the best rates and terms when making purchases that lead to a more satisfying life (aka the American dream). Whether you’re trying to finance an automobile or a house, or even just rent an apartment, your credit score can be very important. And this situation is unlikely to change before your children reach adulthood. So, how can you help your kids establish credit histories that will support their future endeavors?
The path to a good credit standing starts with fiscal responsibility, and a great way to develop this in children is through exposure. That is, start building your child’s credit standing as early as possible. (Of course, all children mature at their own rate. Be sure they are able to handle responsible money management before helping them to establish credit.)
Here are some tips to establish credit histories for your children before the time comes when they step out into the world on their own:
1. Begin with a savings account: Because most banks will not allow you to open a checking account for your children until they are older, start with a savings account. You can open one for your child the day he or she is born or wait until the child matures to the point when such an event will have the most beneficial impact. Consider, for instance, whether or not he or she is earning money. Being an earner can be a good foundation for helping your child to understand the value of money. Putting aside some of their earnings could become a valued practice among children when you teach them what accumulated savings can buy.
2. Open a joint checking account: Once your child is older and a little more responsible, you can open a joint checking account. If you choose, both you and your child will be able to get a debit card for the account, and you will have the ability to monitor transactions. This gives your child a little more responsibility while still giving you oversight.
3. Obtain a credit card: The earliest age that your child can obtain a credit card is 18. If he or she has shown responsibility with their joint checking account prior to turning 18, then the child may be ready to move ahead. Many banks offer “secured” cards with a small line of credit while holding back a corresponding amount of cash in a linked savings account. This way, banks limit their liability and still enable individuals to start building credit by paying off the card according to set guidelines. You also may want to consider cards from retail stores like Target or Home Depot, as these are generally flexible and can help curb excessive spending because they are only good for purchases made in their stores.
4. Pay off a credit card: A good way to build credit is to show creditors that you don’t spend excessively, and that you consistently pay your bill on time. For this reason, impart to your child the importance of limiting spending to about 30 percent of the available credit limit and paying the balance off regularly each month. This is better than not using the card at all or maxing it out—even if it is paid in full regularly.
More doors will open later in life for your children when you help them build a sound credit history. To learn more about ways you can encourage your children to learn more about financial responsibility, click here to read our Cent$ible Kid$ newsletters.