Fintech companies are racing to fill a void in tools and education geared toward helping children and teens develop good money habits. Only 17 states require personal finance courses for graduation from high school. According to a 2021 report on Crunchbase, investors poured over $500 million into 89 fintech products specifically serving youth and their parents. That is good news for parents on the hunt for resources. However, selecting the right tool for your child can present a challenge.
Denise Lopez-Gill, the mother of a 16-year-old in the Chicago area, has been sending her son on field trips with cash for years. After a recent school-sponsored field trip to the United Center, she found out her son had trouble buying lunch. "He couldn't order food for himself and he had to ask someone to pay for it because the places only accepted debit cards," she told ZDNet via Facebook Messenger.
Jumping into research mode, Lopez-Gill began talking with other parents, seeking tips from school administrators, and scouring the internet for teen-friendly digital banking solutions. She and her husband were pleased to find apps with features that tied chores to financial skills, and they are set on using fintech tools to help their son develop good money habits. "We are going to stick with it for his senior year so we can help him learn to track his spending, see his spending habits, and be able to show him how to use apps efficiently."
How soon should children start learning financial concepts?
Children who learn good money habits early are better prepared for life. According to the Council for Economic Education (CEE), 93% of students who have been exposed to courses covering personal finance topics like budgeting, savings, and investing save more versus 84% of students who have not been exposed to similar topics. Chris Caltabiano, chief program officer of CEE, encourages parents to begin working on age-appropriate money lessons early. "If you think of personal finance through the lens of how to make informed decisions, young children understand the idea of choice. The basic notions of how to make decisions [can begin] from a very young age," he told ZDNet in an interview.
Research consistently upholds the idea that the sooner children start learning to manage money, the better off they are as adults. Brigham Young University professor of family life Dr. Amy LeBaron-Black noted that children can begin learning about money concepts as toddlers. For example, rewarding youngsters with small monetary rewards for assisting mom or dad is a simple yet effective lesson tying work to financial gain. "Even as a toddler, they can still start becoming comfortable and confident with money," Dr. LeBaron-Black told ZDNet.
Let's say you didn't start discussing dollars and cents before they were out of Pull-Ups. All is not lost. "The earlier you start the better, but it's never too late to start. The goal is when kids turn 18, they have the financial habits in place to be a success in financial adulthood," she added.
"Experiential learning builds financial self-efficacy by giving kids a chance to make and manage their own money. Financial behaviors, as well as self-efficacy, are important for financial well-being." Dr. LeBaron-Black's latest research supports this by identifying a link between early financial lessons and improved romantic relationships for adults between the ages of 18 and 30.
Opening accounts at traditional financial institutions for children -- especially those younger than 13 -- isn't always a straightforward process. Accounts for minors are typically organized as custodial accounts in the name of the guardian, with limited options for debit card access in the child's name. ZDNet investigated several options and categorized helpful tools as either fee-free or full-featured solutions.
Fee-free fintech options for minors
Parents interested in accounts with no fees and who are willing to take a more hands-on approach to guiding a child's financial education may find these youth accounts ideal. They model traditional bank services for children while giving parents oversight to help manage and approve financial transactions.
Candace Coleman has three children: ages 14, 9, and 6. She's been using a full-featured fintech product for several months, but is not satisfied. "I feel like I'm just giving money away. I just have to find something that I can monitor," she told ZDNet. Parents like Coleman can consider the following options.
Min Balance Req
Limits on daily spending and transfer amounts.
Chase First Bank, Yes; High School, No
CapitalOne Money is a sensible, straightforward solution for any parent looking for a bank account with debit card access in their child's name. These accounts can be opened for children as young as 8. Accounts for children under 12 must be opened as joint accounts by a parent or legal guardian.
The app for children mimics a basic banking app with standard features that allow users to track spending and mobile check deposits, set a savings goal, and set up automatic transfers to the savings goals. Also, parents can provide financial incentives within the app to encourage saving.
There aren't a lot of bells and whistles with CapitalOne Money, but this account is a solid choice for parents who want to avoid fees and start off children, especially younger ones, with a real-world account with which to gain practical experience.
- No fees or minimum balance requirements.
- Parents do not need a CapitalOne account. Accounts can be linked to external banks with no transfer fees.
- Child accounts earn variable interest rates.
- Cash deposits require visiting CapitalOne branches.
- Limited parental spending controls.
Chase offers two types of youth accounts. Chase First Bank accounts can be opened for children ages 6 to 17. The Chase High School Checking accounts are for ages 13 to 17. A Chase First Banking account requires that parents have an existing account with Chase.
Both accounts offer debit card access in the child's name. However, each account differs in features provided. For example, Chase First Banking offers parental spending controls, allowance controls, and savings goals. High School Checking doesn't provide either of those features but does offer mobile check deposits, direct deposit, and Zelle transfers.
- No monthly fee or minimum balance required.
- Debit cards are issued in the child's name.
- Chase First Banking offers chore list, allowance, and savings subaccounts.
- Chase First Banking provides parental spending controls, specifies amounts and spending categories, track spending, and purchase approval.
- High School checking provides direct deposit, mobile banking options, and Zelle transfers.
Copper Banking is an online bank for teens that provides debit card access through Mastercard. There are no monthly fees or overdraft charges associated with the account. There is a variable fee charged to transfer money instantly from an external, linked debit card. However, ACH transfers that take one to three business days are free.
- Teen must have a separate, personal phone number to install the app.
- Debit cards are issued in the teen's name.
- Spending controls default to $500 a day or $2,000 per month.
- Features include mobile check deposits, direct deposit, and cash deposits via ATMs on the GreenDot network. ATM fees for nonnetwork use are not refunded.
- Learning center, challenges, and tools to create savings and giving goals available within the app.
Step advertises as "Banking for Teens," but there is no minimum age requirement to establish an account. Children under 18 just need an adult to sponsor the account. George Bowen, COO of Step, told ZDNet via email that Step can help foster an environment where parents can have regular conversations about money with their children using the Monthly Money Recaps.
Step is an online bank account that pairs the account with a Visa secured credit card. The credit card allows users to spend everywhere Visa is accepted, including internationally, and withdraw cash at ATMs. Any ATM fee incurred is refunded.
- No monthly fees or minimum deposits required to open the account.
- Debit cards issues in the child's name.
- Spending alerts, savings goals subaccounts, and expense tracking are available through the app.
- Pairs with a prepaid credit card so users build credit with use and never pay overdraft fees.
- No fees for immediate transfers from debit cards linked to external banks.
Full-featured, education plus fintech solutions
Parents looking for more granular control features, in-app financial guidance, or tools that influence positive behavior adjustment can choose fintech options that wrap a broader experience around the basic banking functionality. The biggest difference with the following options is the recurring subscription fee. The convenience of automating financial growth strategies or robust technology that helps you monitor your child's financial dealings comes with an acceptable price for millions of families.
Lopez-Gill has no problem paying Greenlight's monthly fee for her son's account. "It is very easy for me to maneuver. I'm hoping the chores list helps, since he gets complacent finishing them all. This will be a way to remind him he has not finished. I think this will be a helpful financial app for all of us," she shared.
Min Balance Req
Launched in 2013, FamZoo's stated mission focuses on financial literacy for youth. FamZoo's founder, Bill Dwight, developed the app after recognizing that his five children needed a tool to help them build smart money habits. "We are 100% focused on financial education. It's really a mission-driven company," he told ZDNet. The features provided mimic real-world financial scenarios to give children hands-on experience with complex concepts.
The parent-paid compound interest feature allows parents to reward behaviors such as saving and giving with customizable interest rates. "It's very similar to real interest but more interesting. I can raise the rates as a parent until the child notices and hopefully gets into the habit of splitting between spending, saving, and giving early on," Dwight added.
- $5.99 monthly subscription fee per family includes unlimited number of accounts.
- Provides subaccounts for savings, investing, and giving goals.
- Children can manage budgets, check chore list, and request special purchase approval.
- Parent can offer reward and levy fines.
- Parents can set spending controls per spending category.
Goalsetter launched in 2016 with financial literacy for children a central component of the app. Tanya Van Court, the founder and CEO, related to the urgent need for financial literacy after losing 80% of a million dollar stock portfolio overnight in the dot-com bubble of 2001. "I graduated from Stanford with two degrees in engineering, but every educational institution I had attended failed to teach me about personal finances," Van Court told ZDNet. She decided to make financial education a priority with her children.
Her daughter asked for a bike and enough money for an investment account on her ninth birthday. "I thought to myself, if I can get every child like you to say that, I can change the world," Van Court said, recalling the inspiration to develop Goalsetter.
With an investment seed of $3.9 million, Goalsetter combines pop culture with financial education to relate complex concepts in a language young people understand. The "learn before you burn" features requires users take weekly quizzes to maintain uninterrupted access to debit card functionality. A CredLit score (modeled after the FICO credit score) provides parents with a quantifiable guide of their child's financial education progression.
- Monthly subscriptions range from $3.95 to $5.95.
- Pairs with a Cashola debit card backed by Mastercard.
- GoalCards, digital gift cards, can be divided among spending, saving, giving, and investment subaccounts.
- Spending controls combine with weekly literacy quizzes that promote consistent growth.
- Investment accounts allow users to research stocks and purchase ETF within the app .
GoHenry broke crowdfunding records in 2016 when it generated $5.7 million on Crowdcube from supporters who invested in its mission to help make kids smarter with money. Today, a community of 2 million people use GoHenry to nurture good money habits in children through the app, a debit card, and in-app financial literacy tools.
- $3.99 monthly subscription fee is per child; four children per parent account limit.
- App pairs with Mastercard debit card and offers 45+ customizable card designs.
- App offers budgeting, goal tracking, allowance, and chore list tools for children.
- Parental controls include automatic blocking of harmful spending categories.
- MoneyMissions gamify financial growth allowing young users to earn points and badges after mastering new skills.
The Greenlight app launched in 2017. It pairs with a Mastercard debit card and provides a robust set of features and tools designed to help children of all ages develop smart money habits. Greenlight has raised $556 million from investors and has a community of 5 million users. As a busy parent, Greenlight Co-Founder and CEO Tim Sheehan understands why parents need help to easily integrate a child's financial literacy training into daily life. "When a child establishes healthy financial habits, they will take those habits into adulthood. That is a powerful concept at the heart of Greenlight," Sheehan shared in an interview with ZDNet.
Younger children use the app primarily for chores tracking and building savings goals. Working teens can take advantage of the direct deposit features. As children mature, parents can guide them through investment topics using the app. "Greenlight is used by parents with kids of all ages. A parent will know best when each child is ready," Sheehan said.
- Monthly subscriptions range from $4.99 to $9.99; limit five children.
- Parent and Greenlight-paid interest on savings, giving, and investment accounts.
- Parent approved fractional investment share purchases.
- Patented category, store, and amount-specific spending controls.
- Youth-friendly investment research tools.