- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

When 18-year-old Thane Economou headed to college this year, he had a checking account and a debit card — and the know-how to use them.

“Over the past year, my father and mother sat me down and showed me how to write a check, how to keep the register balanced,” said Mr. Economou, a freshman at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “I’m pretty comfortable managing my money.”

That’s just fine with his father, financial planner Chris Economou of Tulsa, Okla.

“The situation for college students is that they generally don’t have income coming in yet,” he said. “So they need to learn to work with a cash budget.”

Financial planners such as Chris Economou face the same questions other parents do when their children go to college: Should they send them off with checks, debit cards, credit cards or some combination of the three?

These analysts seem to favor checks and debit cards for day-to-day spending. But some also recommend students have a credit card tucked away somewhere safe for emergencies.

Chris Economou’s son, for example, has a credit card to use if his car breaks down on the interstate or for other unexpected expenses.

But he has cautioned Thane, who relies on a scholarship and an allowance from his parents, to steer clear of the credit-card offers that most underclassmen are peppered with on campuses.

“I’ve tried to teach my children that credit, when it’s misused, can be a dreaded master,” he said. “You don’t want it to be in charge of you; you want to be in charge of it.”

Robin Tan, a financial planner in Kirkland, Wash., said he has talked about money with his daughters, 19-year-old Alicia and 15-year-old Laura, since they were young.

Mr. Tan said Alicia, who returns to the University of Washington in Seattle as a sophomore, is contributing to the cost of her tuition and dormitory costs with student loans and earnings from summer jobs.

She has a joint checking account with her mother that she accesses with a debit card, but she recently applied for a credit card, too, Mr. Tan said.

“I encouraged her to do that because it will help her build her credit,” he said. “And it’s the kind of card with a $500 limit, a low limit, so it’s pretty safe.”

Alicia said she has found that cash “gets me just about everything I need” to function on the campus. And while she’s happy to have a credit card in her own name, she said she “intends to be cautious about using it too much before I have a steady job.”

Financial planner Basil Herzstein, who is with the Gallers Financial Group in Rockville, said he has made it clear to his daughters that credit is not something to be casual about.

“Over the years, my kids have learned we’re rigid in terms of certain things, and one of them is credit,” he said. “If you can’t pay it off at the end of the month, you don’t spend.”

His daughter, Yael, 19, a sophomore at the University of Maryland at College Park, has two credit cards to cover expenses, just as her older sister Natanya did. Mr. Herzstein said books, tuition and other necessities such as emergency medical care go on a card that is billed directly to him.

“Then I got each child a credit card in her own name — them first, and me co-signing,” he said. For this one, it’s the daughter’s responsibility to pay, he said, though he can monitor the cards to ensure problems don’t develop.

Yael said she most often uses her debit card to get cash to cover spending. When she uses the credit card, she is careful, she added.

“I check the credit-card bill against the receipts and make sure all the charges are right, so I don’t have any problems with that,” she said.

And she has apparently learned well the lessons of her father. Although she has a credit card, “I know that if I don’t have the money for it, I can’t buy it.”

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