The Best Debit Cards for Teens

Learn the pros and cons of both prepaid and checking account debit cards before deciding what’s best for your family.

Used wisely, plastic can be a great tool for teaching kids to be responsible with money. Here we offer a snapshot of the pros and cons of two types of debit cards.

RELATED: Teach Your Teens Financial Responsibility and Is Your Teen Money Smart?

Prepaid Debit Cards


These reloadable cards, affiliated with credit card networks like Visa, American Express, MasterCard and Discover, are sold at discount stores, supermarkets, banks and online. An adult opens the main account and can give debit cards to family members age 13 and older. Money is transferred from your bank or PayPal account.

The Plus Side

  • Transactions are declined when there aren’t enough funds to cover them.
  • Parents can set spending limits for purchases and ATM withdrawals.
  • Thanks to recent changes in the law set to take effect next year, “if you become a victim of fraud, the card issuer has to investigate and help you recoup any missing funds,” says Martindale.

The Fine Print

  • You could get hit with fees for everything from opening an account to reloading to speaking on the phone with a customer service representative.
  • Some cards waive monthly maintenance charges if the account is linked to direct deposits, while others offer cash back.

Top Picks

Checking Account Debit Cards

Sharing a joint checking account with your teen means also sharing overcharges and fees, making these debit cards ideal for kids ready to take on more financial responsibility. Some institutions only allow minors 16 or older to have debit cards in their name, while others allow kids as young as 13. In some cases, parents must have an account at the institution in order to open one for their child.

The Plus Side

  • Adults can set daily spending limits and decide whether cash withdrawals are permitted. See How Kids Spend Their Money & How to Set a Budget.
  • Linking teens’ checking accounts to savings accounts allows kids to put money aside for the long term.
  • Teens are introduced to annual percentage yields.

The Fine Print

  • Beware of hidden fees for monitoring spending online, making out-of-network ATM withdrawals and ordering checks.
  • Don’t opt in for overdraft protection. “Set up an account that declines purchases when there aren’t enough funds to cover them,” says Weston. This ensures kids won’t get hit with a fee.

Top Picks

Our experts
Liz Weston, a certified financial planner and personal finance columnist at NerdWallet, and Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney at Consumers Union.

Originally appeared in our November 2017 issue.