Living with credit, Protecting yourself, Travel

Keeping spring breakers’ charging in check

Erica Sandberg

Woohoo! Millions of American college kids are blowing off steam on spring break, but as a parent, you have both the right and the responsibility to expect financial responsibility – especially if your college-age student is charging on your card.

Here’s a four-step plan to limit debt and credit problems that can occur during spring break:

1. Stress what student loans are really for.

According to a 2017 poll conducted by LendEDU, an independent marketplace for student loans and refinancing, nearly 31 percent of college kids who’ve borrowed for their education say they will use some of the student loan money for their spring break trip.

Student loans, though, are intended to go toward tuition, food and course materials. Splurging on spring break with that money can result in a major shortfall. Who are your college students going to go to for a handout when they can’t buy books? Odds are it will be you.

Remind your children what their student loans are for. If you’re not willing to cover the difference if they misuse the loans, be upfront about that now.

2. Pull plastic privileges.

Many parents provide their college-age kids access to their credit cards by making them authorized users. If you’ve made your child an honored credit guest, be clear and firm about charging expectations during spring break.

For example, if you don’t want your daughter to pay for an expensive plane ticket with your account, say so. After all, you will be the one stuck with the bill and the credit damage if the balance is too high to repay quickly.

Establish specific rules.

Tell your kids what – and how much – they are allowed to charge during the break. Monitor their credit card activity online every day to be sure all is going according to plan.

Lower the charging limit.

Many issuers allow primary account owners to set a charging limit for the authorized user. If the card your daughter carries has a $20,000 limit, you may want to allow her to charge just $500 – or whatever you’re comfortable with – while she’s on vacation.

3. Teach a quick money and credit course

Even if your son is over the age of 18 and has a personal credit card, take some time to educate him about credit card best practices. Chances are he didn’t learn the basics of personal finance in high school or college. The simple rule? Only charge the amount that he can and will pay in full by the due date.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to stick to that rule of charging only what you can pay off when travel tempts. According to Tailwind by Hipmunk, the average spring break flight plus five nights in a hotel costs between $597 (Las Vegas) and $1,316 (Punta Cana, Dominican Republic), excluding food and drink.

When a spring break trip’s costs land on a credit card, it may be impossible to cover it all upon return. Then the revolving debt that’s accumulating fees will haunt your college student for months or years. It’s up to your child to heed your warning about not charging what can’t be paid off, but at least you’ll have done your part.

4. Encourage prepayment.

There is nothing wrong with freewheeling adventure, and everything that’s right about paying for most or all of it in advance. Prepaying nonessential expenses is the best habit anyone can get into, at any age. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t use credit cards – charging spring break expenses because of the consumer protections credit cards offer is wise – but immediately deleting the bill with savings is always smart.

Is asking your kid to work hard too much to expect? Nah. A recent report by Georgetown University found that roughly 70 percent of college students juggle jobs while they’re enrolled in classes. If your son or daughter can earn money to pay for his or her spring break, that’s fantastic. Maybe even introduce the idea.

If your child can’t put his or her paychecks toward spring break costs and that expense will wind up on cards (yours or theirs), staying closer to school for break may be the wisest (and cheapest) plan.

If your college student is already back from spring break, make sure he or she pays down that card balance before it’s due to avoid interest and revolving payments. Keep this four-step checklist handy for future college spring breaks and monitoring other college-related expenses.

If your son or daughter is an authorized user on your card, it’s just smart for you to keep an eye on those charges while he or she is away at school. You don’t want to be footing the bill for spring break and paying down the balance into summer or even fall.

What do you think? Drop me a line in the comments below.

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