No credit card for my college-bound son

Commentator Harriet Brackey

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

TESS VIGELAND: Over the next few weekends, parents will be dropping their kids off at college. For lots of those students, it's the first foray out into the "real" world. They'll have to fend for themselves, make their own decisions -- like where to live, what to major in and, yes, how to pay for all of it.

Harriett Brackey is one of those parents. Here's how she sorted it out.


Harriett Brackey: Financial freedom? Well that's a fine idea, but my son who starts college this year will not have that. I can't afford it. Have you ever seen how much an 18-year-old boy eats?

But he has to have some control over money. And I was wondering how much, as I drove to freshman orientation at Florida State University. I found plenty of other parents wrestling with how to handle a family over here and a student over there, hundreds of miles away, needing to buy something.

So, should I give him a credit card?

Families I met at FSU had gotten credit card solicitations when the kids were in high school! No wonder the average college student racks up $2,200 in credit card debt by graduation.

My son's response to the idea of a credit card was "No!" He was a very good saver of his allowance when he was younger, but he turned into teenager, he became just a fool with money. Surprising to me, at 18, he said he doesn't want debt. To him, debt is a trapping of an adult life. And you know how stupid adults are.

Fine by me, then. No credit card.

I noticed though, that the parents of girls said their daughters were very much more responsible about money and they would let them use credit. Good luck to them. I know mine and he needs protection -- from himself.

I was also amazed at how easy it is for a bank to get its hooks into college students. The school ID card that he needs to do anything is also a debit card for a bank. It turns out, this isn't unusual at colleges here.

So we set up an account at the bank attached to his ID. He gets a debit card, a budget from Mom, a charge account for books at the bookstore (and please, buy used) and a big, generous meal plan.

He won't be hungry, but I was surprised that he's a little bit worried about money. He wasn't certain what all the rules would be at the bank. And he wanted to know every detail before he signed for a student loan. Now that's a good boy.

He's worried a bit too about me and how I'll handle him handling money.

Well, the actual money decisions are his to make now. I don't know how his "limited" financial freedom will work. I guess we'll both have more to learn. I just hope that next time I see him and we talk about money, I won't be the one shouting "No!"

Vigeland: Harriet Brackey is the personal finance columnist for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. We'd love to hear how you're prepping your kid for college. Write to us at Marketplace.org.

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