Credit cards for teens? Like, OMG

Is it ever a good idea for a teenager to have a credit card? Some, like Dave Ramsey, say absolutely not ... while others give a qualified yes. As a parent, who do you listen to?

My kids watch closely as I swipe the card through the magic slot at the register. In their short lives it's something they've seen me do hundreds, thousands of times. Whether it's debit or credit their eyes don't differentiate, what they see is mom paying with the plastic card. Cool. They are itching to swipe it through the machine themselves. When we walk out of the store with our groceries or pet food,or whatever, it's almost as though money has not changed hands. Painless, easy. A clean get-away, or so it seems since they are relatively unfamiliar with balances and bills.

The cards are ubiquitous, convenient, and sometimes insidious. As the famous ad goes, although there are some things that money can't buy, for everything else....there's plastic. Even the classic, children's board games of Life and Monopoly now come in updated credit/debit card electronic versions instead of the old-fashioned, messy stacks of colorful paper money.

So it shouldn't be shocking to discover that teenagers are becoming card carrying consumers in their own right -- but it is. Technically, the legal age to get a credit card is 18, but parent's can add kids to their accounts, obtain pre-paid cards, or sign up for "student" cards with low balance limits. The question is, should they?

According to a 2008 survey by the Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Finance Literacy given to 6,856 high school seniors in 40 states, credit card use is up 34.7%, compared with a 32.2% increase in 2002. The organization, devoted to promoting financial curriculum for kids in grades K-12 , also reported that '08 seniors only answered 48.3% of the survey questions correctly, compared with '02s seniors who got 52.4% correct.