Turning 18 is a big milestone! At 18, we become legal adults (and we like to think that means we’re real adults), although kids who turn 18 now are often still heavily supported by their families. There are some financial planning items you should be thinking about when supporting your now adult child to set you both up for success.
Health Care Directive
When your child turns 18, you’ll no longer be able to make medical decisions for them. Given this, we highly recommend your child puts a health care directive in place (also called a living will or health care power of attorney) so you’re able to make their medical decisions should something happen and they’re unable to do so themselves. In this directive, your child can spell out certain medical wishes and name agents, such as parents, who can make their medical decisions or access their medical information if they become incapacitated. Your child can create an à la carte directive through an estate planning attorney or an online estate planning platform such as Legal Zoom. Of note, once your child begins a family of their own, they may want to update their directive so their significant other is their primary agent for making those medical decisions.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
When your child turns 18, you’ll no longer be able to legally access their financial accounts unless you’re a co-owner. Similar to the health care directive, we highly recommend your child puts a durable financial power of attorney in place so you’re able to help pay their bills if something happens and they’re unable to do so themselves. Your child can name agents, such as parents, who can make certain financial decisions for them should they become incapacitated. As with the health care directive, your child can create an à la carte durable power of attorney document through an estate planning attorney or an online estate planning platform such as Legal Zoom. Your child may also want to update their power of attorney document once they have a significant other so that person is their primary agent.
Roth IRA Contributions
As soon as your child has earned income, they can begin contributing to an individual retirement account such as an IRA or Roth IRA. Usually, your child’s first years of earnings through part-time work or minimum wage jobs will be much less than in future years when they have a career job, which is a great time for them to contribute to a Roth IRA and benefit from compound interest. While they won’t receive a current tax benefit for their contribution (which they probably don’t need if they have very little income), they instead have the opportunity to invest and then withdraw those funds tax-free in retirement. Kids who work a part-time job may want to spend those dollars on entertainment or personal items, so they may not have extra dollars to save towards retirement; however, you can help kickstart their retirement savings by contributing to their Roth IRA if you’d like to support them in this way. Your child can contribute the lesser either of the total of their earned income or $6,000 for tax year 2022, and they don’t have to contribute the exact dollars they made. Thus, as a parent (or even a grandparent), you can gift them that amount of funds either directly to their Roth IRA or to their bank account for them to contribute the funds themselves.
If your child doesn’t already have a bank account, we recommend they open one and begin getting comfortable using it. Bank accounts and debit cards are tools they’ll need to use in today’s e-commerce environment. If your child is interested in going to school outside of their hometown, they may want to consider signing up for a bank account with a larger bank that may have branches or ATMs available in other areas. Of note, different types of bank accounts have various fees to be aware of, so it might be a good exercise for your child to read the fine print before opening an account to have an understanding of those possible fees so they can proactively avoid incurring them.
If your child doesn’t have an auto loan, student loan, or a credit card by the time they turn 18, we recommend beginning that conversation, as these forms of debt are tools that can help your child build their credit. Sometimes a bank or lender may not approve a credit card or loan for your child with no credit history, but they may be willing to do so with a secured or student card, you co-signing on a card with your child, or you adding them as an authorized user on one of your cards. The longer your child’s credit history, the higher their score might be, which may help them receive better interest rates or terms for auto or home loans in the future. Due to this, it can be advantageous for your child to open a credit card as early as possible and keep that card open for as long as possible. While credit cards with high interest rates and limits can be troublesome if they’re misused, you can certainly teach your child to treat their credit card like a debit card, meaning they should only spend money they already have in their bank account, which they then pay off each billing cycle or sooner to avoid late payments and interest penalties.
If they haven’t already done so, we also recommend your child creates logins for all three credit bureau websites—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—and regularly tracks their credit score to ensure there are no errors or fraudulent activity. Your child (and you, too!) may also want to consider freezing or locking their credit with each bureau to prevent fraud if they are not expecting a bank, lender, or landlord to check their credit at that time. If a bank, lender, or landlord is going to check their credit in the future, then your child would simply need to unfreeze or unlock their credit with each bureau beforehand.
Help your child learn to track their expenses and create a budget so they learn how to save for items they want and better understand what it costs for them to live or participate in activities with their friends. Even with supporting your child, you may consider having them use a credit card and bank account for all their expenses and pre-paying them or reimbursing them for expenses so that they have some accountability to a budget and learn to manage that. Mint.com by Intuit is a great tool for help with tracking spending, budgeting, and savings goals.
Aid and Loans for College
College is a major life decision for many 18-year-olds. Hopefully you’ve already been talking with your child about college well before they turn 18 and have had a chance to discuss their options for schools and how much you are willing or able to contribute toward their education costs. If you’re not able to fully support their college costs, it’s important to talk with them about their financing options. Please review our Demystifying College Financial Aid article for details they should know and consider with financing.
We’ve seen these financial planning items be invaluable for the families we work with and their kids, and we hope they’re helpful for you and your family as well. We’re always happy to help talk through specific situations and questions, so please don’t hesitate to reach out about yours!
Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.
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Danielle’s focus has always been providing comprehensive financial planning to help others with all aspects of their finances, not just their investments. Her goal is to help her clients understand where they’re at, where they want to be, and how to get from point A to point B while living a fulfilling life along the way. She’ll be there to listen to what’s important to you, help you build a holistic plan, provide solutions and education, and reassure you in your decisions.
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