Your credit score has little or nothing to do with your children, you may think. After all, young ones aren’t even aware of what a credit score is for the most part, nor do they concern themselves with the level of your credit card debt or other boring “adult stuff.”
So, even if you’re maxed out on your cards with a sub-par score, it won’t affect them, right?
Wrong. In fact, numerous new studies point to the fact that there’s a direct link between how parents manage their credit, debt, and other money matters, and how children will do the same in the future. Even more important, you could actually be hurting your child in myriad ways if you’re behind on bills and keep a bad score.
“Sadly, your credit doesn’t just affect you, it also affects your kids,” says Michael Banks, founder of Fortunate Investor.
From missing out on private schooling, participation in sports, field trips, getting tutoring, and having a new computer for homework. Braces, trips to the doctor, and other medical needs may go unmet if parents have too much medical debt, not enough funds set aside, or don’t qualify for A+ insurance programs due to their credit scores.
College choices, and especially their choice of universities and later vocation, will be negatively impacted, and these kids will be forced to take on student loans, won’t have co-signers to help them with their first credit card or car loan, and take lower paying jobs out of desperation and need.
“Your children will need you at some point for financial help,” says Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified.com. “Don’t waste away your financial future and your child’s hopes and dreams because you have sloppy money habits.”
These kids-now-adults will also lack the accurate and unemotional knowledge about debt, savings, and investing. So, point blank, the environment at home around credit and debt matters.
Research also shows that children do pay attention to their family’s finances, but not in ways you may think. Information filters in not in dollar figures and statistics, but in stress levels, perceived anxieties, topics that are taboo, and suggestions about their place in the world or society.
Furthermore, children whose parents have high levels of debt and low credit scores (which is different than just parents on the low end of the wage-earning scale), miss vital opportunities in life that may hinder their potential development as adults.
There even could be developmental or behavioral implications to your high debt/low score burden.
New studies even reveal that children whose parents have certain kinds of financial debt are more apt to have behavioral problems. In a study of 9,000 children ages 5 to 14 conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers found that children of parents with high unsecured debt, such as credit cards or medical bills, were more likely to experience anxiety, emotional stress, aggression, and even depression.
“Growing up in an environment of constant financial worry can cause your children to ‘inherit’ those same concerns and carry them into their adulthood,” says Marc Johnston-Roche, founder of Annuities HQ.
However, it’s worth noting that there wasn’t such a correlation found between secured debt levels and children’s wellbeing. That’s because secured debt tends to go towards more positive and utilitarian purposes, such as getting a mortgage to buy a house, some student loan debt to pursue a degree, or taking out a business loan so the family can improve their financial situation.
Those findings are confirmed by a first-of-its-kind study by Dartmouth College which discovered that how parents handle their credit has socioemotional implications. In their research, children of parents with higher levels of unsecured debt (credit cards, payday loans, and medical debt), were more likely to suffer from “poor socioemotional well-being.”
“High levels of unsecured debt may create stress or anxiety for parents, which may hinder their ability to exhibit good parenting behaviors, and subsequently affect the wellbeing of their child or children,” the study reported.
But there is potentially good news for children when parents do manage their credit – and communicate positively about it. A landmark study conducted by North Carolina State University and the University of Texas concluded that parents who were more likely to sit down and talk with their kids about credit, debt, saving, spending, and earning, even from a young age, give their children a head start for the future.
But, interestingly, the study also found that certain topics were often taboo or off-limits during family discussions about finances, like parental income, investments, and, yes, debt. They also found that parents were more likely to talk with their boys about investing and other matters than with their daughters – a concerning trend.
So, what’s the takeaway?
If you have a bad credit score, your children are statistically far more likely to have bad credit scores as they get older, too. And if you max out your credit cards and carry a lot of “bad” debt, you’ll likely pass that pattern on to your kids. No matter how well-intentioned you are, right now, you’re actually modeling what financial behavior should look like to your children – and they’re learning quickly.
You now have another compelling reason to clean up your credit and right your financial ship: keeping your children out of the same predicament.