Economic times may be tough, but one group is still spending: teenagers!
Last year alone, teens spent a whopping $170 billion, and a growing number used a credit card to do it.
The average teen spends more than $100 a week, which adds up to $5,400 a year.
With such big money on the line, credit card companies are aggressively marketing their cards to young consumers as well as their parents.
Tice Parker, 17, has had his own debit card for the past three years.
"When I first got the card I was really intimidated," Parker said. "I was like, "Whoa, I have to make financial decisions and I have to be on a budget and decide things on my own.'"
The responsibility that taught Parker some important lessons.
"I know that I can't spend money I don't have, and I know to spend only the money that I've budgeted," Parker said.
Any money Parker receives as a gift or makes mowing lawns goes into the account. His parents, who co-signed for the card, sometimes give him a little extra for gas.
"Between the two of us, we're making the payments on it and we're keeping the money in there," Parker said. "But, it's through my decisions and my purchases and my investments that keeps the account running."
Not every teenager keeps their spending in check, however.
"My friends are very much in debt and that's why they have to work and pay for everything," said Wayne State student, Thomas Creagh. "They can't do what they want to do."
Another Wayne State student, Alfreda Minus, has a credit card -- and the bills to show for it.
"I was about 18 or 19 when I first got it," Minus said. "It's a bad idea and just open trouble that's all it is."
Minus thinks it's too tempting for teens to own a credit card.
"I think once you get to a responsible age, say about 20 or 21, (an age) when you've been to college for a while and you know how to manage your money, it's a little better," Minus said. "As a freshman coming out of high school, though, it's a terrible idea."
Financial experts say credit cards can be a teaching tool, but not when mom and dad are footing the bill.
"If a parent is putting money on a card and a child is not making any contribution whatsoever, it does give them that sense that Mom and Dad are going to take care of (them)," said Patti Brennan of Key Financial. "It does send the message that they are entitled to this money."
The consensus seems to be that maturity, not age, should be the guideline.
While some parents may still shudder at the thought of giving their teenager a credit card, there *are* other options..
Several companies have created pre-paid cards like "Visa Bucks" or Citibanks' "Citi-Cash Card", designed specifically for teens. With those cards, parents set the limit and monitor where their children spend the money.
"Once those funds are gone, there is no more money on the card. The card cannot be used," said Visa' USA's Rhonda Bentz. "Parents can access the website at any time, 24 hours a day, and see where the money's been spent."
Some parents really like that idea. Others feel the cards are just a great marketing tool to get kids to spend.
"What the credit card industry tries to do is to simply get those students into their databanks so they know exactly when they're 18 years old," Robert Manning of Rochester Institute of Technology said. "They will immediately send them an application for a normal credit card (at that point)."
The former is a temptation Tice Parker says he plans to avoid -- at any price.
The fastest growing age group for bankruptcies is people under age 25 -- another reminder it's important to manage credit cards wisely.
additional information: learn how to manage finances.
This story ran on ClickOnDetroit on September 24, 2003.