Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thanks Mom

When I was about 16 I got my first credit card. I still remember the moment, standing in our kitchen, when my mom handed me the little rectangle of plastic. I had recently started my first job and would soon be driving on my own. My mom took this as an opportunity to teacher me one of many financial lessons.

With the card came rules:
  • If you don't have the money in the bank don't buy it.
  • Don't count on expected paychecks or other income.
  • Pay balance in full EVERY month.

In addition to the rules came two warnings. First, my mom would spot check my statements at her discretion to make sure I was playing off my balance. Failure to do so would result in loss of credit card and other privileges.* The next warning was that the card was attached to my social security number and my credit score. At the time I didn't know a ton about credit, but from overhearing conversations and watching commercials that this was something I didn't want to mess with.

A final precaution that my mom took was setting an appropriate limit on the card. I want to say it was $500. It was enough so she could see if I was going crazy with it, but not cause any serious damage. She also knew I had more than $500 in my savings account in the event that I did get crazy.

Though I know many would disagree with giving a teen a credit card I think its one of the greatest things my mom did for my credit score. Two years later when I was a college freshman the people standing on campus with clipboards and free towels weren't as appealing to me as they were to most of my peers. Over my four years a few of those cards sucked me in but I avoided the 15 cards that some of my friends ended up with. More importantly, I knew how to use a credit card. I understood responsible spending, making regular payments, and how to keep things on track. I didn't hit the GAP and go on a spending binge or charge some crazy spring break trip.

The words (and threat) from my mom have stuck with me for all of these years. Throughout college I managed to spend within my means. Four years out of undergrad I'm not still paying for a sweater I couldn't live without. Three of my four close friends from undergrad are still working to repay mindless credit card debt.** Whenever I even consider charging something I don't have the cash to cover my mom's voice fills my head.

So thanks mom, for getting me off to a good start.

*I'm pretty sure the main threat was the phone. Like many teen girls I lived and died by my opportunity to talk with my friends each night and on the weekend.

**This is clothing, travel, and dining related debt. None of them have faced any significant hardships (thankfully) that necessitated using a credit card to bail out.


Shuchong said...

Here via the snowflake revolution... just wanted to drop by and say, kudos to your mom!

I wish my parents would have done this for me and my brother. Neither of us have debt, or got credit cards in college, but we also have almost no credit history. In fact, my brother is now on my father's card, because no one (not even the credit card company that he works for!) will give him a card.

sara l said...

I'd forgoten about that side effect. I remember other friends having difficulty right out of school due to lack of credit.

SpillingBuckets said...

My mother did basically the same thing. I have been very greatful. A lot of my friends didn't know anything about credit cards and are actually afraid to get them.

HS @ Our Debt Blog said...

I wish my mom told me all that LOL