Caught Ya! My Teenager’s Sly Attempt to Get His Own Credit Card

Last month we found a letter in our mailbox from Discover credit cards that was addressed to my teenage son, Matthew.

Now why would Discover be contacting my son?

You know, the mere thought of a credit card in my 14-year-old son’s hands really gets my hackles up, considering his poor money management skills and reckless free spending ways.

Obviously, there was something fishy going on, and so the Honeybee decided to open the envelope and see what Discover wanted. Here’s how the letter started out:

“Dear Matt Penzo:

Good news! You’re only one step away from becoming a Discover Cardmember. We are currently processing your recent application, but need to talk to you to verify some missing information. All it takes is one call from you to help us put your application back on track.”

Heh. As you can see, my foray into raising teenagers just keeps getting more and more interesting.

Anyway, Discover immediately got the phone call they requested, only it wasn’t from, um, “Matt” — it was from his mom.

And so, after talking to a Discover customer service representative, we learned that my son had indeed filled out an online application for his own credit card. Oddly, for so-called privacy reasons, Discover wouldn’t reveal exactly what information Matthew had put on the application — but they did confirm that he didn’t enter his social security number (because, wisely, I’ve never given it to him) and he had lied about his age.

Then again, Matthew had to have lied about his age in order to submit the application because credit card contracts entered into by minors are typically not enforceable in a court of law.

Assuming the application did somehow manage to get approved, Matthew would most likely not have been held responsible for any accrued charges. Essentially, he’d end up getting away with ripping-off the credit card company. And although the credit card company could try and sue for fraud, I suspect they probably wouldn’t bother.

Of course, that doesn’t make it right.

Credit Card Options for Teenagers

Now, even though I’m not one of them, there are legitimate options for parents who are looking to give their kids swipe-and-sign privileges of their own. For example:

Debit cards. Kids who have their own checking or savings account can take advantage of this option. And while, technically, kids can’t spend more money than they have in their accounts, debit cards are subject to overdraft fees. They also do nothing to build a credit history.

Prepaid cards. Prepaid cards allow parents and even employers to load funds online or over the phone. Most also allow parents to monitor their child’s spending and even control what can be bought using the card. The downside is prepaid cards do not build credit history, and they come with lots of fees.

Secured credit cards. These cards, which help build your child’s credit history, are secured by a savings account — so if a payment is missed, the credit card company still gets paid. If there are any drawbacks to these cards, it’s usually their interest rates, which tend to be on the high side.

Joint credit cards. With this type of card, you essentially act as the cosigner. And while this option will establish a credit history for your child, the parent is ultimately responsible for all charges.

Authorized-user credit cards. Making your child an authorized user on one of your existing credit cards is the easiest — and most risky — option for parents who want to give their kids a credit card; you definitely put your credit score at risk if the card ends up being abused, so it’s usage must be closely monitored. The good news is, this option also helps build your child’s credit history.

While I am not ready to consider any of these for Matthew just yet, I will probably get him a debit or prepaid card as soon as he gets his first job.

And Now, the Rest of the Story …

As for those of you wondering how our phone call to Discover ended up, after the Honeybee told them that Matthew was a minor, Discover quickly canceled his bogus application and a potential financial disaster was mercifully averted.

Later that evening, after sharing a couple of quick lessons on fraud and the pros and cons of credit cards with my son, I asked him what made him decide to apply for one of his own. His answer: he only did it to take advantage of the Swagbucks sign-up bonus.

I know what you’re thinking: Swagbucks?

Yes, Swagbucks. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Photo Credit: heidi schempp fournier


    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you, Griper. As for the aspirin, being that I’m still getting over this stomach virus, I prefer to keep the Pepto Bismol closer right now.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      Oh, I think Matthew was thinking — and I give him credit for his industriousness. I do believe he only applied for the card because he really wanted those Swagbucks.

      He was just focused on a very ill-advised method for getting them, which, to me, is understandable for a 14-year-old.

    • 10

      Len Penzo says

      I’m really not that familiar with them, but I did a very quick check on them after Matthew told me he was collecting them. As best I can tell, Swagbucks is a rewards system that allows you to earn points for shopping on the web — actually, I think you don’t even have to buy products, but only visit various websites. Once you earn enough points you can cash them in for free merchandise.

  1. 11


    Pretty sneaky, Matt. I have to assume that you have heard from your parents that it is wrong to lie? I suppose this is not quite perjury to lie in an online form, but does it become so when it gets to the contract phase? I suspect that the credit card company was upset to hear from your mom…and pleased at the same time.

  2. 17


    Hey Len,

    You could get Matt one of those Bill My Parents cards I see advertised. I’m sure that would teach him proper finacial responsibility.

    Honestly, I am really happy the CARD Act passed and the banks aren’t on every college campus giving away free frisbees and t-shirts. They were definitely preying on the young and inexperienced.

  3. 21


    I love these teachable moments! You probably would be surprised to learn I gave my credit card to my son and daughter when they left for college at 17 yeats old. They were ready for it and I never had to take it away.

  4. 24

    DC says

    Swagbucks? I never heard of it until now and googled it. I see it’s nothing but a new twist on an old marketing ploy — get people signed up on a sucker mailing list by promising a few cheap trinkets. My son hadn’t heard of it either, took a look at the swagbucks website, and declared it “either a scam, or a cheesier version of bitcoins with none of the advantages.”

    Bitcoins? I’m feeling old.

  5. 25

    Ed says

    The kid is in training to become a politician or Finance Minister.

    Thank my good wife every day. She never wanted any you don’t have them to laugh over you don’t have them to cry over.

  6. 26

    Teenager's Parent says

    The Swagbucks explanation may in fact be correct, but parents should be aware that a credit card is needed to “verify age” on many porn sites. Nuff said.

  7. 27


    Life with teenagers is interesting, to say the least. Our daughter recently entered an online contest to win a retail gift card. She had to enter her cell phone number. (We have had many discussions about this but at the moment, she was lured by the chance of winning). She didn’t win the gift card, but did get a reoccurring monthly cell phone charge of $9.99.

  8. 28


    I have to admit I signed up for every credit card that came to my campus just to get the free stuff – the fishing hats from MBNA were the best, and much to my wife’s dismay I’m still wearing them. The movie tickets and McD’s coupons were pretty good too.

    Most of the applications were never accepted, and the few that were I rejected my self – with a shredder.

    Btw, Quebec law says you only have to provide your name and address – no SIN, etc – although if you’re serious the credit check could take longer or they just won’t waste their time and reject the application (which is what I hoped for).

    And like usual, we’re not eligible for Swagbucks in Quebec, so not a problem here.

  9. 30

    Heather Rouse says

    How sad that you have categorized your own 14 year old son’s behaviour as “sly” in your blog. It sounds like he was misled into the entire transaction by this “swagbucks” IMHO children reflect the labels they are given by their parents and family – never mind being shamed by a public internet blog.

    • 31

      Len Penzo says

      I appreciate your concern, Heather, but my son definitely knew better than to apply for ANYTHING, let alone a credit card, without getting Mom or Dad’s permission first. It’s not as if we haven’t set ground rules with him regarding his use of the computer — and ordering or signing up for anything online without our permission is a big no-no. So I think it is fair to say he was definitely being “sly.”

      As for his self-esteem, I can assure you he’ll be just fine.

  10. 33


    Hey Len, Just repeat “teachable moment” over and over till things calm down, then go give the Honeybee a drink and a hug….

    Next time I see you I’ll share my sons credit card story. It would take too long to write.

  11. 34


    What a great story. I am so glad that he signed up for something benign like swagbucks.

    I am currently on the fence about getting a credit card for my oldest son since he will head off to college next fall. The great thing about technology is you can keep an eye on the credit card expenses and catch things quick.

    So much to think about!

    • 35

      Len Penzo says

      It’s a big decision, to be sure, Kris. I know if/when I get my kids one, they will be on a very tight leash.

  12. 36

    David says

    Ha – Reminds me of my own youth (I’m mid 30’s). Walking through the mall with friends and signing up for the Sears card because they had a bunch of crappy stuff to give you sitting on a table, if you signed up for a card. I would sign up, multiple times, just for the junk. I’m happy to say I am a little more financially mature now.

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