As many as one in four American teenagers don't know the difference between a debit card and a credit card, according to a survey commissioned by ING DIRECT USA and its parent company, Capital One. 24 percent of respondents told researchers that they thought spending money with a debit card involved borrowing a bank's money instead of using their own cash. Nearly 12 percent of teenagers surveyed said that they lack adult guidance about how to save and spend their money.

1,000 survey respondents between the ages of 12-17 answered questions about earning and saving money, sharing their concerns and perceptions with researchers. Nearly half of teens surveyed said they get most of their spending money from jobs outside the home. About 30 percent of teenagers reported getting most of their cash from allowances or from handling household chores.

Researchers followed up their survey by asking respondents' parents about their personal finance habits. A sample of 558 parents revealed that most families have prepared for conversations about drugs and sex, but that less than a quarter of American adults have figured out how to talk about money with their kids. One in five parents told researchers that they considered themselves poor financial role models.

Capital One and Search Institute launched a website at BankIt.com to help parents and children talk more openly about money. According to the site's editors, adults can use a few tricks to help their kids build financial literacy skills:

  • Keep the conversation simple. Instead of tripping up on broad technical details, parents can focus on how to save for specific goals, like a video game or tickets to the movies.
  • Tie money lessons to everyday activities. Parents can ask children to help hunt for bargains online and to clip coupons from weekly circulars, offering a commission from the savings.
  • Practice what you preach. Kids can help hold parents accountable when adults share information about financial successes and missteps.

ING DIRECT's survey offers an optimistic view toward closing a gender gap related to personal income. 50 percent of teen girls surveyed make money from jobs, compared to just 38 percent of their male counterparts.