Parents of college-bound students have a decision to make as offers stream in for their soon-to-depart teenagers.
Should they send their green freshmen off to campus armed with a debit or credit card to learn how to handle money? Or is it better to keep firm control through the Bank of Mom and Dad?
The “correct” answer will vary by family and personal preference.
The Credit Card Act that took effect 2 1/2 years ago made it much harder for anyone under 21 to get a card. Gone are the days of card issuers racking up scads of new customers on campus by handing out free T-shirts or rewards points for spring break.
“In the old days, if you could fog a mirror could get a credit card,” says Adam Levin, chairman and founder of Credit.com, a San Francisco-based company that provides information about credit products.
Under-21s can still obtain a credit card if they have a qualified co-signer or proof of sufficient income to repay the debt. And card issuers still market aggressively to college students, targeting them with pre-screened mail offers.
That makes parents, as the likeliest co-signers, more involved in the card-or-no-card decision.
Robyn Kahn Federman of Rochester, N.Y., says there’s “no way” she’ll let either of her two daughters have a credit card at such a financially tender age. Her daughter Sarah, who’s 19 and about to start her second year of college, uses her PayPal card instead. That lets her mom fund the balance as well as see how spends her money.
“I don’t think anything related to debt belongs in the hands of a college kid,” says Federman, communications director of a marketing agency. “The vast majority are not experienced enough with money or cognizant enough of the risks.”
Some students, though, have shown they’re disciplined enough to have their own card on campus. For those who qualify, options include debit cards, prepaid cards, individual or co-signed credit cards, or secured cards, which are backed by prepaid deposits.