Updated on 09.10.14

Sneaky and Fun Credit-Building Lessons For Kids


While Congress has passed many measures in the last ten years aimed at reducing the opportunities for predatory credit card companies, the reality is that first-year college students and young adults ages 18-21 are still able to qualify for some cards that offer limits much higher than their incomes can realistically sustain. To be able to recognize and thus avoid the mistake of accepting too much credit, it can be beneficial for young adults to get an education in these financial matters before leaving the nest. Yet, for parents who already spend a lot of time and worry planning their own budgets, it can be difficult to find the time to prepare and teach lessons for their kids about credit card management.

Here are some sobering statistics that might spur parents on to take action regarding their children’s financial education:

According to the U.S. Federal as of December 2011, the average U.S. household carried just less than $16,000 of credit card debt.

According to the Federal Reserve Board, only approximately 30 percent of all American households pay their monthly credit card charges in full each month.

According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, 36 percent of credit card holders do not know the interest rate of the credit card they use most frequently.

You Can Remind Them

Our kids can have short memories. They often are quickly on to the next latest and greatest thing. But when you have “loaned” them the money to pay for yesterday’s fascination and tomorrow brings yet another “must have,” standing firm can be one of the best teaching tools a parent has.

This may mean reminding your child that they have not paid back the loan for the first item. Yes, there may be some disappointment. However, the extra work it might require to teach a child about expectations of living within one’s means, not necessarily their desires, could one day help prevent more destructive behaviors like borrowing too heavily or spending too much on non-essentials.

Play a Credit Game

One kind of learning tool that potentially can be useful for children and young adults is simulators and games designed with the intent to teach good habits.

The nationwide student news network, Channel One News website (no affiliation) offers an interactive credit card simulator program at no charge on its Life section landing pages. Children can select a credit card that they want to apply for and go through a similar process they would as an adult applying for credit.

The simulated credit card offers typically have varying limits and interest rates. As children begin to play, they have the option of making simulated purchases and payments. Each time they make a choice, a “statement” is available detailing how this impacted the status of their credit card.

These statements can be printed out for display on the refrigerator door at on a family activity center. By playing once a day or every other day or once a week, children may continue to print their new statements detailing their status and more importantly, providing them with a visual depiction of how their actions are affecting their simulated finances.

It is a good idea to keep this game light-hearted. However, to drive home the point of choosing not to pay their bill, one option could be leaving one neglected statement in view longer just to demonstrated that bills don’t go away simply because they are not paid.

Bring In a Coach

Parents sometimes wait for hours in line to sign their kids up for sports where they are coached by another adult or take their children to weekly music lessons to learn how to play piano, trumpet or guitar from a specialist. Why not take the same approach with finance and enlist the help of a financial coach to teach your kids about money and credit card debt management?

A growing number of financial planners such as Brett S. Ellen, the founder and president of the American Financial Network (no affiliation), are branching out beyond helping their adult clients plan for retirement by holding specialized seminars for children and teens.

In these workshops, the kid’s financial coaches explain complicated financial terms and concepts in language children understand. They also relate financial expenses through scenarios teens can understand. For instance, a financial planner explains that paying a credit card late fee of $30 can require four to five hours working the type of minimum wage jobs many teens may be familiar with, such as working a fast food drive-thru line or bagging groceries.

As many parents painfully know, children – especially teens – sometimes are more apt to hear and heed life advice from someone other than their parents. To learn more about this new trend, go to the CreditCards.com (no affiliation) website and search for the article, “Does your kid need a financial coach?”

Compute Compound Interest

While many historians have come to refute the idea that Albert Einstein dubbed compound interest to be one of the most powerful forces in the universe, computations of credit card interest charges at financial institutions across the United States and worldwide daily prove that if the famous scientist had said it, he wouldn’t have been far off base.

It is a complicated concept that may make an enormous difference in financial matters. It can work in your favor if you are the one collecting the interest and it can work drastically against you if you are the one paying. So, how can a parent potentially communicate this concept to kids of all ages?

One possible way is to open a home-based Bank of Mom and Dad. Have your child deposit one penny per day. You, as the parent, deposit a penny every other day without telling your child. At the end of the week, have your child open the bank to count how many pennies it contains. There should be eleven pennies, not seven. The visual of the extra pennies can help demonstrate the concept in a manner that children understand. To drive the point home for older kids – especially teens – you might want to use quarters.

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  1. Petra says:

    I like the bank idea. However, why wouldn’t you tell your kids beforehand, that for every penny that they will put in, you will give 50% interest?
    Talk about creating unrealistic expectations, by the way, I wish my bank would give me 50% interest every week…

    I am not sure how many American kids have their own savings accounts at banks, but opening one of those and having the kid save up half of its allowance and seeing that real bank account grow and get interest may be even more of a teaching experience.

  2. Bren says:

    “the following”?

    It’s really sad the direction this site has taken. It used to be such a great resource.

  3. Dom says:

    I agree with Bren and many of the other recent commenters. Can you put that notice at the start of the post so that we can know to skip it? I’ve been a daily reader through RSS for 5 years and have benefitted tremendously, but the recent (or not so recent if I haven’t been terribly perceptive) changes I’ve noticed make me want to unsubscribe.

  4. Jules says:

    “Brilliant” is naming a bunch of websites and not linking any of the text. Lazy, lazy writer.

  5. Aedon says:

    Talk about bland writing.

  6. Aedon says:


  7. Daisy says:

    Nicole is back!

  8. Misha says:

    For those like me who use AdBlock, but unlike me weren’t willing to turn it off to find out who the post’s sponsor was, it was Equifax.

  9. Johanna says:

    Can’t Equifax afford to sponsor any decent writers?

  10. Lindsay says:

    That “36% of people don’t know the interest rate on the credit card they use most often” stat isn’t all that scary coming after the one about 30% of households paying their bills in full every month. It’s no big deal if those people don’t know what the interest rate is since they never pay it. That leaves only 6% of people PAYING interest who don’t know their rate.

  11. Ruth says:

    So now we get an infographic in written form

  12. Kevin says:

    Credit card interest does not compound. The only interest that compounds are “negative” amortization loans, where the minimum payment does not even cover the newly-accumulated interest (and the balance is actually increasing each period, instead of decreasing).

  13. Kevin says:

    Credit card interest does not compound.

  14. Jess says:

    Sorry Trent, I just unsubscribed. Nicole’s writing skills need a lot more work to get to the caliber I expect for such a well-known blog. I thought I remember you saying once, long ago, that you wouldn’t write sponsored posts – I guess I thought you meant there wouldn’t be any on TSD, not that *you* wouldn’t write any. I’ll keep the bookmarks I have from the good old days of homemade cleaners and gifts, but I just can’t take this junk on a Monday morning.

  15. Kevin says:

    The only interest that compounds are “negative” amortization loans.

  16. Kevin says:

    The notion that loan interest compounds is an oft-repeated myth.

  17. Cindy Annie says:

    With compound interest, you work out the interest for the first period, add it to the total, and then calculate the interest for the next period, and so on. So yes, you compound interest on loans. Good article.

  18. Cindy Annie says:

    Good article. And yes, you do compound interest on loans.

  19. Johanna says:

    Nor is the counting-pennies game an example of compound interest.

  20. Johanna says:

    But it IS an insult to the intelligence of teenagers.

  21. Chelsea says:

    I’d much rather learn about interest through an informative article instead of quarters from Bank Mom and Dad.

  22. Andrew says:

    Who wrote this? The mysterious Nicole?

  23. Icarus says:

    what has happened to this site?

  24. Johanna says:

    If you really want to illustrate compound interest…

  25. Johanna says:

    …add as many pennies to the bank as are already in the bank…

  26. Johanna says:

    …keep that up for a month, and you’ll need $40 million in pennies.

  27. Misha says:

    Trent, you come into the comments every so often to insist that you read the comments. If that’s really the case, which we all doubt, here’s a request for you: write a post explaining what’s going on lately with the guest posts, just like you did to explain that the blog had been sold.

  28. BrentABQ says:

    This is getting really disappointing. An article sponsored by Equifax telling us how great of an idea it is to teach our children how to use credit cards. Your good and relevant articles are getting just too sparse, the signal to noise ratio too high.

  29. Shannon says:

    Wow, that’s low; a sponsored post that implies you’re a bad parent setting your kid up for a life time of debt if you don’t buy their product.

  30. Shannon says:

    Ironic. The rudest thing I’ve said to date is the only thing to get past moderation.

  31. Kevin says:

    Cindy Annie: No, interest does NOT compound on conventional loans. If it did, then the balance would have to GROW every month. If your balance is shrinking, then that means that your payment is not only covering the entire newly-accrued interest, but also a little bit of the principal. If interest was compounding, then each payment would have to not even cover the interest, leaving some interest to “carry forward” to the next month and have interest charged on IT (thus, “compounding”).

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