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Credit card for teen? Try debit

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Dear readers - Last week, in answer to a question about teen-agers using credit, Dr. T recommended that you make your kids pay as they go with their own cash rather than hand over your credit card.

If you don't want your teens getting into debt, but you're worried about the safety of having them carry around lots of cash, other kinds of plastic can ease your concerns on both counts.You could, for example, help your teenager open a checking account, to which he or she could get access with a debit card.

Suzanne Boas, president of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Atlanta, put her daughter, Heidi, on a quarterly clothing allowance when she was 13 and co-signed a checking account for her. That allowed Heidi to sharpen her shopping skills - "The fad-buying stage lasted a year or so until she saw how much it was costing," her mom says - and get used to a debit card, which Boas believes "is a positive transition for 14- to 18-year-olds."

With Visa's TravelMoney card, you can load up the card with a cash value, which can be drawn down at ATMs that bear the Visa logo. The card is protected by a personal identification number and can be replaced if it's lost (call 1-800-847-2399 for the nearest issuer).

Question - I know it's a little late, but for the record I'd like to know your opinion of the Toys "R" Us holiday gift registry, which let kids dispense with letters to Santa and use a scanner to plug in the toys they wanted.

Answer - For the record, Dr. T is all for making a parent's life easier, but not at the expense of removing whatever magic is left in the holiday season - or whatever pleasure is left in gift-giving for any reason.

It's one thing for a child to make a wish list and wait in agonizing anticipation to see what will materialize. It's quite another to put in your order and wait for Mom and Dad or Grandma to ante up.