- The process of building credit generally begins at age 18, though individual states, products and financial institutions have their own specific rules.
- Although minors typically don’t have credit reports, parents can take certain actions to help children under 18 build good credit once they are of age.
- Starting financial education early is the foundation of helping children build solid credit.
It’s common for parents to have concerns surrounding their children’s future financial wellness and how it can affect their access to certain opportunities later in life. Going to college or buying a car are just two examples.
The good news, however, is that parents can assist their children in establishing and maintaining good financial standing by helping them build positive credit habits early on. There are some key ways children can build good credit habits both when they’re minors and independent at age 18.
When can you start building credit?
Generally, the minimum age at which a child can start building credit is age 18. However, age restrictions can differ by state, product and financial institution. For example, states have different regulations surrounding whether a child under 18 can co-sign on a student loan. These individualized policies will affect how early teenagers can establish their own credit.
How can you help your child build credit?
There are several different ways to help young adults begin to build credit, depending on whether they are older or younger than 18. Credit building early can help your child establish a good credit score and long history with credit bureaus.
Before your child turns 18
It’s important to note that credit bureaus don’t generate credit reports for those under 18, and most minors don’t have a credit history. That said, there are several ways parents can help a child learn the key concepts of credit before they turn 18, so they can spend wisely once they're eligible to start building their own credit history.
- Add your child as a credit card authorized user: Most credit card companies allow primary cardholders to add additional users to their credit card accounts. You can contact your credit card issuer to add your child. Their spending will appear on your credit card bill.
- Open a checking or savings account in their name: Opening an account before the age of 18 can help children learn the concepts of budgeting and financial management.
It’s also critical to ensure your child is well-versed in financial concepts, such as different types of accounts and money management.
After your child turns 18
Before taking on debt or using a credit account, it can be prudent to educate your child on important financial topics like interest rates, compounding interest, debt management and loan repayment terms. This will help them manage their credit judiciously and begin with a solid foundation.
Parents and trusted guardians are instrumental in helping a child build credit, beginning at age 18. There are a few key ways to begin the process:
- Help your child open their first secured credit card: Your child will be eligible to open a credit card in their name beginning at age 18. Many young adults, such as college students, may opt for a secured credit card with a relatively low credit limit as their first credit card. Under certain circumstances, this may require a co-signer. If possible, consider opting for a card with no annual fee.
- Help monitor payments: To ensure that your child builds a solid payment history and avoids late payments, help ensure they are paying off all bills in full and making on-time payments.
- Research other types of credit: Beyond credit cards, there are other credit products, such as student loans, credit-builder loans, personal loans, car loans and even utility bills (such as cell phones). Depending on the product and issuer, some of these may also require a co-signer. Before committing to any lending product, make sure your child understands the terms and how it fits into their full financial picture; a dedicated banker can help you navigate these considerations together.
For additional information, consider reviewing this resource on how long it takes to build credit.
How to obtain your child’s credit report
Fraudsters may use a child’s personal information, such as a Social Security number (SSN), to open accounts or submit credit applications.
For this reason, parents need to know how to check a credit score for their child to be sure it's free of errors and fraudulent activity. If your child is older than 13, you can request a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com, which will show you if there’s a credit history under your child’s name. If you would like to inquire about a child younger than 13, you can go directly to the websites for the three main credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — for more information.
When guarding your children's finances, it’s important to regularly check their credit report early and often to spot fraud.
How to freeze your child's credit
Some parents may freeze their child’s credit to prevent fraud and avoid identity theft. A parent can freeze their child’s credit up to age 15. After that time, a child can do so on their own. It’s helpful for parents and children to know how to freeze credit.
Personal finance for kids
Planning a solid financial future early can make a world of difference. As such, parents need to teach their children good financial habits from a young age to create financially independent adults who maintain good credit.
The earlier you introduce your children to simple personal finance concepts (e.g., differences between credit vs. debit, checking account vs. savings account), the earlier you can create a strong foundation of financial literacy for their adult lives. This will ultimately set them up for positive credit habits in the future.
As your children approach age 18 and are on the cusp of making independent financial decisions, you can also discuss more sophisticated financial topics (e.g., the importance of budgeting, how compound interest works, the retirement planning process), using this 10x10 Learning Roadmap as a guide.
Regardless of your child's age, it's wise to visit a financial institution and open bank accounts for them, serving as a way to introduce them to different types of bank accounts. As a result, they can learn how each account helps with money management, which helps prepare them to be responsible financially independent adults. Beginning with savings for kids may be a strong option.
One way parents can learn about a few available options for setting up savings accounts for their kids is to work with a financial professional who understands their goals.