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How to Wean Your Adult Child Off Your Credit Card

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How to Wean Your Adult Child Off Your Credit Card


It’s not hard to end up with an adult child on your credit card – and it can feel awkward to ask them to surrender it.

Making your child an authorized user on your credit card isn’t a bad idea – many parents do so when a teenager starts driving. It allows your teen to use our credit to make purchases before they can qualify for a card, provides a way to cover emergencies, and helps build a credit history.

Ideally, you talk about expectations before you hand your teen a credit card. But, mistakes are to be expected. Leaving their cash in another pair of pants or finding a clearance price on some cute boots can constitute an emergency in a young person’s mind.

But perhaps the biggest mistake has already been made: Most parents don’t think to say, “You can use this only until you are established in a job.” So what now?

How to Wean Your Adult Child Off Your Credit Card
Have an expiration date

It’s best for financial help to be for a limited time. For example, specify the card is for emergencies while in college and to return the card after graduation.

Any financial aid from parents should have both a dollar limit and an expiration date. That expiration date can be extended, but it offers a framework for when to revisit the issue.

If you don’t do that, though, it’s not too late to set some clear expectations. The conversation can be uncomfortable, but you can transition gracefully.

Show them how to apply for their own card

It can be tempting to delay applying for their own credit cards if they already have access to plastic. But young adults 21 and older who have an income can likely qualify for credit in their own name. This affords them financial privacy and helps them build credit independently.

Credit cards are marketed to different demographics, and you can look for a card your child is likely to qualify for together. Being an authorized user on your card may help them get the card they want, but if they have trouble qualifying, a secured credit card is another option.

Once the new credit card arrives, celebrate. It’s another milestone in becoming independent from parental finances. After parents take back their card, they can still leave the young adult as an authorized user on the account strictly to benefit the adult child’s credit score.

If access to a parent’s plastic, though, is a symptom of financial dependence, that also needs to be addressed.

Check your own finances

It’s common for parents to be unaware of exactly how much they’re spending on their adult child – the family phone plan, Netflix and perhaps highway tolls don’t feel like additional expenses if you’ve always paid them. It may not even dawn on you until you’re looking at retirement and calculating monthly spending. The amount can be startling.

While it’s easy to wish the young adults had simply stepped up and announced they would take over, it’s not fair. You can’t really blame them for continuing to accept money when we continue to provide it.

Agree on a timeline

Don’t avoid the discussion. If you’re worried about damaging the relationship by setting boundaries, consider the potential costs of setting none.

Parents can feel taken advantage of when they see adult children going on vacations they’ve denied themselves. They may also be putting their own retirement at risk.

Discuss specifics, such as expenses you’ve been paying that’ll become their responsibility. If transferring those expenses incrementally makes the most sense, agree on how and when.

When parents can afford generosity

We’re not suggesting giving adult children nothing if you can easily afford to give something.

You could offer to pay for half of a vacation, for instance, or even 75%. But the young adult should pay something. That way, they’re contributing and not accepting a handout.

If you have the money and desire, it’s fine to fund a grandchild’s education or perhaps a family travel experience, but you’re by no means obligated. Your chief obligation is to teach your children to be fiscally independent adults.

We want them to experience the same pride in supporting themselves that we have. Keeping them on the parental dole can undermine that. Be understanding, but be firm.