This post was created in partnership with American Express. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
So there I was a college freshman setting foot on a ginormous, gorgeous campus of an SEC school, and feeling like the sky was the limit. I was both super nervous and insanely excited for this experience to begin. Having grown up in Montreal, Canada, I had dreamt of attending an American university and there I was, living the dream! Who knew that The Dream would include racking up crazy amounts of debt thanks to the dozens of credit card booths peppered all over campus, touting enticing spending limits, free pizza, keychains, and T-shirts. I mean, what newly independent 18-year-old could possibly resist?
In high school, I did have access to a credit card. It belonged to my mom and was to be used in emergencies. (Side note: a teenager’s definition of ‘emergencies’ is always subjective, yes?) But I rarely used it although I remember feeling empowered just by having it in my wallet. It also gave me a sense of comfort that, if something happened, I would be covered.
When the opportunity arose for me to get my own credit card, in my own name, with no one looking over my shoulder or having to approve my purchases, I have to admit that I went a little crazy.
First, I used the credit cards for small things: developing pictures (remember that???) or a bathing suit on sale. The problem (and beauty) of credit cards is that you buy now, worry about paying them off later. And, well, later came reallllll soon. Before I knew it, I was doing my darndest just to keep up with the minimum payments, which we all now know is the fastest way to trouble. I carried on this way for several years. Mind you, I was working hard in college – I started out working in The Racquet Club (one of the campus cafeterias), then worked as a book shelver in the Marston Science library, then made calls for the Alumni Association seeking donations from Alumni, and finally spent most of my time at the University of Florida as a receptionist for doctors in the the Student Mental Health Center. Still, multiple monthly minimum credit card payments were no small thing to manage.
It wasn’t until I was engaged to my now-husband that I had a much-needed conversation in managing my finances and credit card management. We sat down together and talked through everything from APR to monthly interest rates. Let’s just say, after 15 years of marriage, I now have a stellar credit score and exactly 2 no-interest credit cards that carry no balances. Thanks Honey!
If only the wild, wild world of credit cards had been explained to me at a young age; it might have saved me years of throwing money at minimum balances and trying to improve my credit. The cool thing about parenting is that we get “do- overs” with our own kids for things that we didn’t have the opportunity to get right when we were kids. And so, I am making a point to teach my crew about credit, credit cards, and the like. Having my 14yo be an Additional Card Member with her own American Express Additional Card, gives us the opportunity to walk down the credit card road together. We can have conversations about responsible spending, and interest rates, and what truly constitutes an “emergency” — all before she steps foot onto a college campus and gets seduced by free T-shirts and keychains.
But I’ll still tell her to eat the free pizza. After all, I’m not a monster. Learn more about how to add your teen to your account as an Additional Card Member here: https://amex.co/2njaoF2