You might think your credit and financial habits are nobody’s business but your own. But whether you like it or not, your kids – especially teenagers and college students – watch your financial behaviors and learn a lot from you.
For better or worse, our offspring often mimic our financial traits and money-management patterns in ways both large and small.
So how can you be sure you’re setting a positive financial example for your children when it comes to credit?
Despite your best intentions, there may be times when you’re not even aware of the subtle, negative messages you could be sending your kids about the proper use of credit cards and debt.
Here are three bad credit habits you don’t want to pass along to your children.
Maxing out credit cards
Remember that time you and the kids were out shopping and your credit card got declined? Not only was it awkward because the customers behind you saw what happened, so did your kids.
You might have indignantly stammered something about already having paid the bill, but the truth is that your card was likely rejected because it was maxed out. When you overspend, you’re sending your kids the wrong message: namely that a credit card gives you carte blanche to get what you want – even when you can’t truly afford it.
So instead of making minimum payments on that MasterCard, or instead of running up your credit to the limit, ease up on the credit cards. Then explain to your children that you’re giving the credit cards a break in order to pay down your balances, use cash more often and get a tighter grip on your finances.
“Having to physically part with money is harder than just charging it,” says Jesse Ryan, managing director at Accounting Principals. “Paying cash helps you stay on a budget because you will think twice before buying what could be an impulse purchase.”
It may seem embarrassing to have such a candid conversation with a 16-year-old, and practically impossible to follow through in both word and deed. But in the long run you’re actually doing yourself, and your kid, a favor by being more responsible and showing restraint with your credit usage.
Hopefully that’s a skill – let’s call it the art of delayed gratification – that your child will remember, develop and emulate when he or she is an adult.
Accepting store credit cards
Another shopping-related credit blunder that can send the wrong message to kids is constantly saying “Yes” to every nice woman behind the counter who offers you a retail store credit card.
That application for a new card will generate an inquiry on your credit report, which can temporarily lower your FICO score. But equally troublesome is that if your kids are in the mall with you while you go on these credit-hunting binges they’ll pick up the not-too-subtle message that department store credit cards are the quick and easy way to get what you want when you lack cash.
Again, this mindset won’t encourage them to save money or to learn to say “No.” Instead, it promotes an excessive amount of consumption.
“It’s not necessary to have more credit cards than you need, because not only will it present temptation, but it may also lower your credit rating,” says Gabe Albarian, the author of “Financial Swagger.”
So here’s a better strategy: Say “Thanks, but no thanks,” to those department store credit card offers. Then turn around and explain to your kids that applying for new credit can lower your credit rating, and that if you can’t pay the bill right away you can quickly get into trouble because retail cards generally charge interest rates that are higher than you might find on Discover, MasterCard and Visa.
Dissing your bills
When the mailman comes to your house, do you simply toss aside credit card statements? Or perhaps you flat-out refuse to open your bills, or make comments like: “Ugh. Nothing but bills.”
Be careful what you say in front of your kids because they may pick up your habit of ignoring or disregarding bills. That’s a definite no-no.
Such sentiments suggest that repaying bills isn’t a priority, which it should be. Your actions also send the message that you don’t believe it’s important to keep your credit rating intact by promptly opening bills and paying them on time, or even ahead of their due date.
So rather than lamenting about that next credit card statement, go ahead and make a minor production out of opening the bill while your kids are watching. Then, instead of groaning about the balance, say something like: “I think I’ll pay this balance off in full this month” or “I’m going to pay two times the required payment on this bill.” Next, turn to your son or daughter and add: “I want to practice good credit habits. And when you get a credit card or a loan, I hope you will too.”