As a parent, you want to give your child a leg up on everything they'll have to take care of in their adult lives. Given how many people seem to be entrenched in credit card debt and juggling other personal finance issues, many parents want to teach their children how to handle money responsibly. They're thinking, "Maybe we should open a checking or savings account for little Joey or Amelia so they can learn how to manage their money."
If that's what you're thinking, good job! To find out how best to get children started on the path to smart money management, I spoke to Martha Acworth, chief marketing officer at Salem Five Bank, which has built a solid reputation for helping kids save money. In particular, it offers the Gold Star Saver, a special savings account for children that doesn't just provide a place to keep money; it offers access to its online site, which teaches children about everything from using credit cards to paying taxes.
If you're wondering what you should consider before opening a checking or savings account for your child, here's what Acworth suggests you consider:
Open a savings account, not a checking account. When your child is a teenager, say, 16, and has more grown-up needs, it might be a smart idea to co-sign for a checking account. But for now, why opt for an account that doesn't bring in a little interest? The key word here, Acworth admits, is little. "I know interest isn't a lot these days, or not what it used to be." Still, she says, it's a good first step.
Make sure there isn't a fee attached to the account. Ask! While most banks aren't going to try to pull a fast one, you shouldn't assume there's no fee just because it's a child's account.
Be certain your child can access their savings account online. No, it's not crucial, but chances are your child is on a computer, anyway, and they're going to be more interested in their money if they can periodically check on their balance.
Look for an account with a few bells and whistles. Or, rather, it might be helpful to know that extras do exist. For instance, some banks offer ATM cards for a child's account so they can withdraw money for a special occasion. If you think your child is up to it, look for that option. "We think it's important for a parent to reward [their child's] good financial behavior with access to their money when they want it," says Acworth.
Some accounts will also let you transfer your own money to your child's account, so if you want to transfer your child's allowance to their account, you can.
If possible, choose a bank that offers a financial education component as well as an account. This advice might seem self-serving, since that pretty much describes Salem Five Bank's program, which, on its web site, features money games and money articles and quizzes. But Acworth makes a lot of sense. "I think it's important for a savings account to promote financial literacy and have some component of that vs. just this idea of save, save, save," says Acworth.
But what's wrong with the idea of a child saving, saving, saving? "Eventually," explains Acworth, "saving will lead to spending, and it's important to know how to spend wisely and understand how money works."
Can't argue with that.
Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the book "Living Well with Bad Credit."
Five tips for setting up a bank account for your child