When Should Children Get a Debit Card?


The 2021-22 school year is officially in session, and students are getting back into the swing of things. This time of year always comes with extra expenses, it seems — a yearbook order here, a school shirt purchase there, or even a completely unexpected “Oh no, I lost my lunchbox and need a new one!” cost.

Instead of sending children out with cash to cover their purchases — which is easily lost and most often unrecoverable — perhaps it’s time to get them a debit card. After all, a debit card can be a practical way to teach accountability and money management. It’s a big financial step, though, so how do parents know when and if their child is ready?

Great question. Here’s a rule of thumb:
It often makes sense for young people to have a checking account and debit card around the time they enter high school, get their driver’s license, and get a job. These major milestones correspond to taking on greater responsibility and also having both income and expenses to manage.

When a parent decides their child is ready to open an account and get a debit card, it is imperative to remain involved in their financial education. While debit cards are convenient financial tools, they also make it easier to spend money. Parents should set guidelines for what children can use the debit card for and teach them to monitor their transactions closely. And while parents are guiding their children through the ins and outs of debit card usage, another skill to teach is budgeting. They go hand in hand.

A final thought: When children make mistakes with a debit card while they’re young, the consequences are usually small (most banks, Bank of Utah included, have precautions in place to prevent big, expensive problems). Once they go to college or start living on their own, however, the consequences can be great. Teaching children valuable financial skills early can get them started on a successful financial journey.

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