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Teach students to use credit wisely
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Credit cards seem to be the American way to shop, and youth as young as high school are using them.
Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said research shows more than 20 percent of American teens have a credit card. Just over half the college freshman have a credit card, but by their sophomore year, 92 percent have at least one.
"College students have more access to credit cards than those who don't go to college. This can be a good thing because it allows them to establish credit," Shaffett said. "However, students need to learn how to manage money and credit at a very early age or they will get in financial trouble and be burdened with financial debt by the time they graduate."
Shaffett said the average college student graduates with more than $2,000 in credit card debt. Those with student loans carry almost an additional $19,000 in debt.
"Parents need to teach young people when and how to use credit wisely," Shaffett said. "Very few students learn personal financial management in high school, so these are lessons that must come from the parent or they will be learned the hard way with unmanageable debt or a ruined credit history."
Shaffett said if minimum payments are made on a $1,000 credit card balance at 18 percent interest, it will take 12 years and $2,352 to pay off that bill.
Shaffett encouraged parents to teach their children to always pay bills in full and on time. Save for purchases and use the interest on the investment to speed the savings rather than buy it now and pay for the item plus interest over time. In either case, Shaffett encouraged consumers only to buy goods with credit that retain their value so they can be sold in a financial pinch.
"What you don't want to use your credit card for is margaritas, groceries, gas or anything that gets used up before the bill is due unless you're going to pay the bill in full when it arrives," Shaffett said.
Susan Cosgrove, Extension family resource management agent in Newton County, said the best way for parents to prepare a young person for the responsibility of credit cards is to start money lessons early.
"The younger the child learns about money, the better," Cosgrove said. "Learning responsibility is the first step in financial education. Having daily chores is a good way to learn responsibility, and giving older children an allowance can be excellent learning opportunities."
General guidelines for teaching this responsibility include giving young children daily, basic household chores, and getting older children involved in decision making. If allowances are used, give a set amount and stick to it, allowing youth the opportunity to manage an income.
"Teach good money habits by example, and help young people learn the difference between needs and wants," Cosgrove said. "When they get old enough to have a credit card, they will be much better prepared to use it wisely."