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Dave Says: A Lesson He'll Remember for the Rest of His Life

FEBRUARY 5, 2024

Dear Dave,
Our 21-year-old son is in college, and we’ve always warned him to stay away from credit cards. Despite our warnings, we recently learned he got a store-branded credit card. The good news is he has stayed under the credit limit. The bad news is he has never made any payments on the purchases he made, and now he owes about $3,800. He’s a good student, and my husband and I want to look at this as a young person’s one-time mistake. Do you think we should pay off the card for him just this once?

Dear Melinda,
Believe me, I understand you wanting to help him out. It means you’ve got a good heart, and you love him. No parent likes seeing their child in a bad situation.

There’s a reality here, though, I hope you won’t overlook. It’s his debt, not yours. He knew what he was doing when he signed up for that credit card. He knew what it meant, what was expected, and he’s the one who should make good on the repayment. There’s nothing unfair about that.

Now, you’re right. This is a typical young person’s mistake. And like a lot of mistakes our kids make, it’s one that’s bad and wonderful at the same time. It’s bad because if he had just listened to you and his dad, he would’ve avoided the whole mess. It’s wonderful, though, because it gives you two the opportunity to provide him with a real world, teachable moment.

At this point, my advice is for both of you to give him a great big hug, and lovingly explain where he went wrong and why it was a bad idea. If you want, you can even go a step further, and help him find a part-time job if he doesn’t have one right now, so he can pay off his debt and get out of this mess. It’ll take some planning and discipline on his part, but leave the payments to him. Hopefully, by the time he finishes working his tail off—and scrimping and saving to pay this debt—he will have learned a lesson he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
— Dave

* Dave Ramsey is an eight-time national bestselling author, personal finance expert and host of The Ramsey Show. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people take control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.