When Should You Give Your Child A Debit Card

Mother and her daughter using a laptop for home shopping
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I am going to age myself here and say, it was easier to teach kids about money when I was growing up.  This does not mean it was always taught, but it was easier.

Why was it easier?  We had checking accounts with check books and we had savings accounts.  Debit cards did not exist yet, well technically they started in 1978, but the version we know today, did not start being offered until the early 1980's.

 

We also did not have online bill pay, or mobile apps or even online banking.  We actually had to go into the bank, track our balance or wait for our statement to see our check book balance.

Because this are all new items, we are not familiar with when to teach our kids about these new tools.  Therefore I frequently get this question - when should my child get a debit card?

The short answer is - when they get a checking account, which I would recommend doing around the time they enter high school or get a regular job. 

Now for the long answer, so you can feel confident in the decision to give your child a debit card.

Stop looking at it as something special

We look at the debit card thing as something different and unique - because we did not grow up with them.  However, they are not different, unique or special.  They are a regular part of managing your money today, and thus need to be treated like that.

  Your child needs to learn how to manage their money and checking account the way that they will have to when they leave home.

They will not be writing the number of checks we did, they will use online banking more and they will use apps more than we ever did.  So just like they need to learn to how to drive because they have to drive their entire life, they need to learn to manage a debit card because they will use it their entire life!

 

The sooner they get started the faster they can master the basic skill of keeping a balanced checkbook.

Cautions

Some people prefer to use a prepaid card instead of a debit card for their child. 

I highly recommend you skip the prepaid card and only use a debit card tied to your child's checking account, with you as a joint signer. (Most banks require you are 18 to open your own account.)

There are two reasons I recommend this:

  1. Prepaid cards are full of fees that you need to monitor, more fees than a checking account.
  2. You want them to learn the entire process; checks, ATM's, deposits, withdrawals everything that they need to manage their money on a daily basis.  You cannot do this with a prepaid card.  In fact you cannot do that with just a checking account and no debit card.  At some point they need to learn how to do it all, and it is better for that to happen with you supervising.

Another thing to keep in mind, when setting up their debit card is to ensure the bank is not allowed to authorize transactions that your child does not have the funds for.

  You will have to sign off on this when you open the account, so read everything carefully and make sure you are not signing up for overdraft services.  If you do not understand what you are signing make the banker explain it to you in detail!

Ultimately when deciding when to give your child a debit card you need to remind yourself that your goal in teaching your kids about money is to help them to be able to fully manage their money on their own when they leave your house.  This includes debit cards, so make sure you give them one in time for them to learn while you are still helping out.

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