Key takeaways

  • Because people under age 18 can’t open their own credit cards, you can’t technically open a whole new credit card in your child’s name — but you can still add them to yours.
  • Adding someone to your account turns them into an authorized user, which gives them many of the same perks you have as the primary cardholder.
  • Making your child an authorized user on your account can have a lot of benefits, but it’s not without risk. If your child acts irresponsibly with the card, you’re the one that’ll be on the hook for their purchases.

Credit cards are generally considered financial tools for adults, but there are situations where it can make sense for a kid to have their own credit card — with some parental input, of course. And when we say “have their own credit card,” we really mean “get added to your credit card,” because those under the age of 18 cannot open their own credit card accounts. So instead of opening a new credit card in their name, you’ll have to add them as an authorized user to your account if you want them to have a credit card.

With that being said, if you’re wondering whether you should be getting your child a credit card in the first place, the short answer is that it depends. There are plenty of potential upsides and downsides to consider. Some of them depend on your unique situation and your kid’s maturity level, but you should consider each of the pros and cons and how they might apply to you before jumping in.

Benefits of giving your child a credit card

No child should get a credit card without oversight, especially when they’re first learning how to use it. But when done properly, giving your child a credit card can provide plenty of potential benefits worth considering:

You can start to build credit for your child

While not all credit issuers report authorized user activity to the credit bureaus, there’s a good chance adding your child as an authorized user on your credit card could help them build a valuable credit history they’ll need later in life. Having some credit history under their belts can help young adults work toward qualifying for their first credit card, as well as for student loans or even a mortgage over time.

Your child can learn positive financial habits

Having a credit card of their own can help children, particularly teens, learn that their actions have consequences. If they charge a purchase to their card, they’ll have to repay what they owe over time. And if they spend more than they planned, they’ll learn to understand that, eventually, the bill always comes due.

Plus, if you have a credit card that allows you to set limits on how much an authorized user can spend, then you can better control how much available credit goes to your child each month — and lower that limit if necessary.

Your child will have credit for emergencies

Children with credit cards also have a valuable tool they can use in an emergency. A credit card for a child under 18 can be immensely helpful if, for example, your teenager needs to fill their car up with gas when they might otherwise run out, or if your kid is away for the summer and needs a safe way to make purchases.

Drawbacks of giving your child a credit card

There are plenty of reasons parents might consider adding a child to their credit card account, but there are just as many “gotchas” to watch out for. Here are some to keep in mind:

You’ll need to monitor their spending

A child credit card might seem like a good idea, but it’ll likely create more work for you. Depending on the terms you set for their use of the card, you may need to keep track of their transactions on your account statement to figure out how much they owe you and where that money is coming from. If you have a teen with a part-time job, will they be paying you back from their paychecks? Or will it be deducted from their allowance each month? Or maybe you’re fine with paying for their charges up to a certain limit and just want to make sure they don’t overspend.

No matter what rules you set up, you’ll have to be prepared to discuss their spending habits. If your card allows it, you might also want to set spending limits and turn on transaction alerts.

You’re opening a door for potential spending problems

You’ll also have to deal with any problems that arise when your child or teenager has their own credit card, such as a kid running up a huge balance on something frivolous. What if your child spends too much out with friends, or charges a bunch of non-refundable online purchases to your card? If your child winds up being an overspender or is otherwise unwilling to make payments for unauthorized purchases, you could wind up dealing with all kinds of expensive issues.

You’re liable for repayment

Ultimately, you’re the one who’s responsible for repayment of all purchases charged to authorized user credit cards, whether you approved them or not. This means you’re on the hook for your kid’s choices, both good and bad.

That’s why it’s important to not only talk to your child about the responsibilities that come with their own card, but also to make sure you feel confident that your child is mature enough to handle that responsibility — but even then, mistakes can still happen.

How to talk to your kids about financial responsibility

When it comes to helping your kids learn the ins-and-outs of credit, the following steps can help you get started:

1. Explain what a credit card is

An older child might have a basic understanding of this already, but it doesn’t hurt to go over the definition of a credit card as compared to something like a debit card, as well as what it means to be added to your account. By explaining how authorized users work, you can make sure your kid understands that you can see and monitor their spending.

2. Go over the basics of how a credit card works

One of the most important factors for them to understand (and one that will hopefully stick for their entire lives) is this: Charging purchases to a credit card is easy, but you will ultimately have to pay every penny you charge back — plus any interest and fees.

3. Show them your credit card statements

Using a credit card responsibly may be difficult for kids and teens to understand at first, but your credit card statement can be a valuable tool when it comes to providing a real-life example of this information. If your child charges a $60 game to their authorized user credit card, for example, having a paper bill that shows them the charge, the amount due and the due date can be incredibly eye-opening. If they only choose to make a minimum payment toward their charges, you could even use your statement to show them how interest accrued on the balance they carried from one month to the next.

4. Work with them on budgeting and repayment plans

Hopefully, kids and teens can learn over time that credit cards and budgets go hand-in-hand. It’s fine to charge purchases to a credit card if you’re able to set aside the money for repayment and stick with a plan. But if you charge “stuff” and don’t keep track or set money aside for your bill, using a credit card can make your life more costly and complicated in a hurry.

Minimum age requirements for a credit card

Some credit card issuers set a minimum age for authorized user credit cards, while others do not. We pored over the details from each card issuer so we could share these details.

Credit card issuer Minimum age for authorized users
American Express 13 years old
Bank of America No minimum age requirement
Barclays 13 years old
Capital One No minimum age requirement
Chase No minimum age requirement
Citi No minimum age requirement
Discover 15 years old
U.S. Bank 13 years old
Wells Fargo No minimum age requirement

How to get a credit card in your child’s name

If you decide to add your child as an authorized user to help them build credit or learn positive money habits, the process is fairly simple. Here’s what you need to do:

1.  Figure out which credit card account you want to share

Take stock of the credit cards you have and figure out which card you want to share. There may be benefits to adding an authorized user to a certain card — if you add your child to a rewards credit card or travel credit card, for example, you could earn points or miles for each dollar they charge to their card. On the other hand, choosing the card with the lowest interest rate might be prudent.

2. Check to see if you can add authorized users online

Some credit card issuers let you add authorized users to your credit card accounts online, but some prefer you to call into your issuer’s customer service number to start the process. Chase, for example, allows cardholders to add authorized users online to any of their credit accounts.


Bankrate’s take:

While it may be more convenient to set up an authorized user online, it doesn’t hurt to call or consider going to a brick-and-mortar bank location if possible instead. Bringing your child along or having them on the call can give them a chance to ask questions to an expert.

3. Prepare yourself to offer some personal information for your child

Depending on the card issuer, you should plan on sharing information like your child’s Social Security number and date of birth when you request an authorized user card.

4. Wait to receive your child’s new credit card in the mail

Once you add your child as an authorized user, all you have to do is wait for their credit card to arrive in the mail. Their card will have their own name on it, and you can activate it and let them start using it right away.

Alternatives to help your child build credit

If you want to help your child learn positive credit habits and you don’t want to get them their own credit card, giving them access to a debit card is one alternative. A debit card tied to their own bank account won’t build credit, but it can help them learn to budget the money they have and get them in the habit of tracking their spending.

Once your child is at least 18, you can also help them get their own starter credit card. This will likely need to be a student credit card or secured credit card geared to individuals with no credit or limited credit history, but any credit card is a good place to start. Here are our picks for the best student credit cards and the best secured credit cards.

Finally, you can also consider co-signing on an auto loan or another small loan with your child, even if you plan to pay it off right away. The loan and its repayment will be reported to the three credit bureaus, which can help your child begin building a history of responsible credit use.

The bottom line

Teaching kids the importance of credit is an essential part of gaining financial literacy. And while it can be overwhelming when you undoubtedly have a hundred other things to teach your little ones, taking the time to add your child as an authorized user (when the time is right) can help make the transition to a starter card much easier.

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