One of the ways to teach children about money is to help them open a bank account. Most banks will allow you to open a savings account for your child, no matter his or her age. This is an important step to building a strong credit score for your child, and it can be a good way to get him or her started saving money (and to enjoy it, since many savings accounts for children offer prizes).
However, at some point, you also need to teach your child how to spend money wisely. While cash can help your child learn, it’s not the same as having him or her practice with what many adults use on a regular basis: a checking account.
How old must your child be for a checking account?
My mom helped me open a checking account when I turned 12. However, not all banks and credit unions allow children that young to have checking accounts—in many cases, you must wait until your child is 13. Check with your financial institution for its rules.
Even if your bank or credit union allows your teenager to open a checking account, he or she won’t be able to manage it alone. Depending on state law, if your child is under either 18 or 21, you will have to jointly own the account with him or her. This is an advantage for you because you will be able to access the account at any time to add money (allowance, for example) or to keep tabs on how your child is managing the account.
Call your financial institution ahead of time to determine what you will need (identification, documentation, and so on) to open a checking account for a minor. The process for opening bank accounts has changed since 2011, which means that you probably need to be prepared to provide information about yourself as well as information about your child. Walk in prepared so that the process will go more smoothly.
Deciding to open a checking account with your child
Before you open a checking account with your child, it’s important to teach him or her the importance of good money management. You also need to make sure that your child understands how checking accounts work. Children and teenagers need to know that a debit card isn’t “free money”—they have to put money into the bank account now in order to have funds to draw on later.
Gauge the level of responsibility your child can handle, and go from there. When you open the account, show your child how to track income and expenses, and emphasize the basics of budgeting and saving money. Encourage your child to contribute to a savings account while using the checking account. Monitor your child’s account as well; if you notice something is off, you can immediately catch the problem and turn it into a teaching moment.
Even though you might be able to open a checking account with your child when he or she is 13, you may not be able to add a debit card to the account until your child turns 16. If you are interested in encouraging your child to use plastic responsibly, there are reloadable pre-paid debit cards that you can consider, but bear in mind that they tend to have more fees than standard checking accounts.
If your child is granted a debit card, think about opting out of overdraft protection and standard overdraft services on the account. Nothing will help your child learn the value of tracking spending like being denied while attempting to make a purchase.
The bottom line
Every child is different, and only you can determine whether your child is ready for a checking account. However, if you have been teaching your child responsible habits from a young age, there is a good chance that he or she will be ready to handle the increased responsibility of a checking account.
Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer and professional blogger specializing in personal finance, family finance and business topics. She writes for several online and offline publications. Miranda is the co-author of Community 101: How to Grow an Online Community, and the writer behind PlantingMoneySeeds.com.