The IOU in the sandbox

A three-and-a-half-year-old named Amy Vega has just signed a Kansas Credit Union loan to buy the tricycle of her choice, making her the youngest American ever to go into debt.

The interest Amy will pay amounts to only 8 per-cent. But wait! Before you crunch your MasterCard in the nearest food chopper, you must understand that this rate applies only to children under 17. And the maximum loan is $200.

Still, what does it matter that a parent must cosign for the loan? A ''first'' of sorts has occurred here in what one might have taken to be a bastion of fiscal conservatism. The old Rodgers and Hammerstein song can be dusted off: ''Everything's up to date in Kansas City. They've gone about as far as they can go.''

We're as strong for child rights as anybody. Well, almost anybody. But we're not sure how we feel about the right to go into debt at three-and-a-half.

We appreciate that children really do ''grow up before you know it'' these days. Yet being in hock at three-and-a-half does seem a little precocious, even by Jet Age standards.

It does not delight us to foresee that ''keeping up with Amy'' will become the new status game in the three-year-old set, not only in Kansas but everywhere.

We imagine a new junior financial empire being built - and we're not talking about coast-to-coast piggy banks. How long will it take before a revolving-credit card has to be issued to save Amy and her friends from defaulting on their original debts?

We hate to think of the little tots riding their mortgaged tricycles to the bank to hit the old computer for cash to meet the next monthly payment. It just tears the heart out to visualize the tiny debtors climbing a jungle gym, especially built for their convenience, so they can reach the command console and punch them-selves deeper in debt.

No matter how many loans-on-loans the wizards of junior finance invent, there will come the day when one of the baby high-rollers just cannot make it. We wouldn't want to be the collection agent who has to repossess the tricycle - not for all the bubble gum in Kansas.

Oh Amy! Amy! Once you toddle into the Charge-It Society, you're in the plastic-card labyrinth but good. There's no turning back.

What kind of a fast-shuffle life will these kiddies be leading by the time they're five? They'll make Brooke Shields look like a late bloomer. We just hope we never see the day when one of them, absolutely burned out financially, has to file for bankruptcy in kindergarten.

In all fairness, the case for the other side must be acknowledged. A spokesman for the Kansas Credit Union said: ''We felt that most parents aren't discussing financial matters with their kids. . . . The credit society we're in is so advanced, what's going to happen to those kids?''

Education is everybody's excuse when precocity is the game. But should children be ''taught the value of money,'' as the saying goes, by learning to owe it? Should children be taught they ''can't have everything they want when they want it'' - another favorite lesson - by being allowed to pedal wheels they haven't paid for?

The logic is hard to follow.

Who knows where it will all end once we start treating babies as miniature adults?

We don't want to get into the great debate between those who believe you can't start too soon to prepare a child for the complicated world of 1983 and those who cry, ''Whatever became of childhood?'' But we do feel lines should be drawn somewhere around the playpen. Call us antediluvian, but if we had our way, no child would wear eye makeup before five or date before seven or go into debt before nine. And that, as we say in junior financial circles, is our bottom line.

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