This week I gave a presentation on Good Debt/Bad Debt to students at Chess-in-the-Schools, a not-for-profit after school program for New York City youth. I am hopeful that they left the session that much smarter about how to manage their personal finances. I am encouraged that I made some headway and was able to impress upon a group of high school kids that good financial habits will make or break their ability to lead financially secure lives.
Personal financial responsibility is a subject that needs to be taught to all young people, not just kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have no safety net. No one wants a child to graduate from college with excessive and unpaid credit card balances or to rack up large and unmanageable debts during any point in his or her life. Many of us had children in our thirties, and need to be thinking about our retirements too. Do we really want to be supporting our children’s bad spending habits after we’ve shelled out an obscene amount of money for a four year college education that we hoped would lead to their financial independence?
So what can we as parents do? Don’t wait until they go off to college to talk to them about good personal financial habits. Teach them the difference between good debt and bad debt. Using a credit card for impulsive purchases and paying the monthly minimum balance means that they are probably financing that purchase, at an 18% interest rate, over a period exceeding 20 years! At a double digit rate, the amount of interest they’ll end up paying will exceed the cost of the original purchase. If your son or daughter has a newly acquired credit card and is finding it difficult to pay off the balance each month, suggest using a debit card which takes the money directly from the checking account (but make sure that the checking account has sufficient cash so as not to overdraw the account). Help your child to see the need to cut back on impulsive spending.
Here are some staggering statistics. A recent survey conducted by student lender Sallie Mae, as reported on Bloomberg, revealed that 84% of students have at least one credit card, compared to 76% in 2004. Students with credit cards have an average of 4.6 cards and half of them have 4 or more. The average credit card debt among graduating college seniors was more than $4,100 last year, up from $2,900 in 2004. And only 17% of those who responded to the survey said they paid off their credit card balances each month!
You may be shocked to learn just how easy it is for an 18 year old college student to get a credit card. The banks prey on them on college campuses, send mailings about low initial rate offers, post inviting pitches in college bookstores and even entice students with free lunches. Make your child aware of these seductive offers and help him or her to understand how to be responsible about money and credit. There is no shame being one of the 17% who pays off credit card balances each month!