Editorial Policy

Can teens use their parents' credit cards?

Erica Sandberg

August 13, 2013

QDear Erica,

Can I use my mom's credit card? I'm 16. — Kayla

AHi Kayla,

No, you may not. Now put your mother's purse down right this minute, young lady! You can't just sashay into a store with another person's plastic and expect the cashier to let you swipe it. You'll have to present your ID, and if your name doesn't match the one on the card, you'll be turned down (and possibly even be turned over to the security department).Ask Erica

What you may be able to do, however, is make an online or telephone purchase with someone else's credit card — but only if that individual hands you the card and gives you precise permission to do so. Not, “Yes, sweetheart, those boots on that website are really cute. I'd love for you to have them someday,” but rather, “Go ahead and put the boots on my card.”

And that doesn't mean that a single approval is good for subsequent purchases.

As the account owner, your mom gets to decide when and where the card is used — and by whom. Though there's no law against her allowing others access, she really ought to be the sole charger. This way she can maintain total control. She'll always know the balance and can plan for paying it in about 30 days, which is when the bill will arrive.

Still, if mom is absolutely fine with you shopping with her credit card, that's her prerogative. There's even a chance that she can add you to the account as an authorized user. If she does, you would have a personal piece of plastic. With it, you'd be able to shop, but wouldn't have to pay the bank, because the account wasn't issued to you. You may have to give Mom money for whatever you buy, but that's something that you'd arrange with her.

If I were your mother, I would not let you charge unless you had first proven to be financially responsible. Here's how can do that:

  1. Build a “credit history” with your mom. If you haven't borrowed money from your mom before (or have but didn't repay her), ask for an amount you need for a necessary item. Promise to pay her back by a specific date, or in equal installments over a short time frame. Keep your word once, and she'll be happy; more than that and you'll build a good credit history with her.
  2. Earn an income. Another way to impress Mom is to take steps to earn some cash on your own. After all, every lender — from a parent to a bank — wants to be sure that their customers have the means to pay them back. So explore ways to rake in money. Baby-sit, help neighbors clean out their garages, tutor smaller children — become entrepreneurial.
  3. Save money. Another great habit to start and establish is to always tuck away some of what you make. This way, if you have trouble repaying any kind of loan, the funds you've set aside can bail you out and protect the credit rating you've tried so hard to build. Besides, all creditors like to see that you've got some assets that can act as security. It gives them a warm feeling about you.

Assuming your mom is so impressed that she does let you use her card, be absolutely sure to adhere to her rules. If that means paying her back by a specific date, do it. If you are only to charge certain items, respect that and don't beg for more.

If she goes further and allows you to become an authorized user on one of her credit cards, you really have to be careful. Every credit card account comes with a specific credit line, and that's the maximum amount of money you and all other cardholders may spend. That sum could be many thousands, so don't get dizzy with possibilities!

Again, only charge what you're allowed and follow your mother's rules. Everything that happens with that account will go on her — and your — real consumer credit report.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.