My son is a student. We only want him to have one credit card for emergencies and are willing to co-sign for a card. What would be the best one?

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Q: My son is a student and has been turned down for several cards. We only want him to have one for emergencies and are willing to co-sign for a card. What would be the best one?

A: First, for what it's worth, it sounds like you're good parents, and I think your son is lucky to have you in your corner. To be honest, I'm not a fan of co-signing for credit cards. Too many things can go wrong if your son makes some bad choices, and his debt goes spiraling out of control. So I'm going to suggest a few other options.

Maybe your son has been aiming too high, going after credit cards with a lot of rewards that require stellar credit and a long credit history. So I'm wondering--has he tried applying for student credit cards? There are a lot of student credit card offers out there which, if the student manages credit well, can help students build good credit. And you could co-sign for those, too, if that's really what you want to do. (I don't know your son's age, but if he is under 21 and has no solid income, then you have to co-sign if he's going to have a credit card.)

If your son has bad credit, I'd consider steering him toward a secured credit card. You (or you son) would put your own money on the card, usually a couple or few hundred bucks, and then your son uses it like a regular credit card. Local credit unions are a great place to start looking for a secured card as well as banks where you have an existing relationship.  You should be able to find one with an annual fee of $39 or less.  The terms can vary quite a bit so, like with any other type of credit card, be sure to shop around until you find the one with the lowest fees and interest rate.

If he uses the secured credit card semi-regularly, once or twice a month, and pays it off every month, with any luck, his credit will be good enough that he can transfer to an unsecured credit card. And then you don't have to co-sign and be connected to his bad credit.

You may also want to contact your own credit card issuer and see if your son can be an authorized user. He'll benefit from your presumably stellar credit history, but you're in the driver's seat, meaning, for example, you can take him off the card if he starts using it foolishly, like buying pizza every night.

Or you could put money on a prepaid credit card for your son if your only concern is that he has easy available cash in an emergency situation. I'm not a fan of prepaid cards--too many fees--but I'm even less of a fan of anyone co-signing a loan if they can help it. There are too many nightmare scenarios that can unfold that could damage not only his credit, but yours.


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