How to protect your financials and digital accounts when your kids leave home

Emma McGowan 29 Aug 2023

When kids leave home, they likely keep the keys to the house. They also might keep information and access that’s better kept under your roof.

It’s a landmark shift when our children leave the house to begin their lives as adults. As they pick up the last boxes and bags from their room and set out into the world, we give them love and encouragement in hopes of success in the job, the school, or the exploration of life they’re embarking upon. Maybe we turn an eye toward how we’re going to redecorate their room, too. 

But in our digitally connected world, when kids leave, they’re potentially taking a lot more than boxes and house keys. They’re likely taking your personal information and data that may be better kept at home.  

It’s logical and understandable for families to share financial information 

It’s not uncommon that, within the home, we willingly share each other’s service accounts, credit cards, and email logins. Our children can have quick-pay features on their mobile devices connected to our credit cards. We carry our kids under our insurance. We share access to streaming services, email, and account logins on multiple computers—and we may want to extend some of that information as they leave. 

 As an example, my sister’s son is taking his first step out into the world on his own. He already has a car, an apartment, a job, and a light load of courses at the local university. Part of the deal he has with his parents is that they will help continue to support him by paying for the gas for his car, which they do (and have done) by providing him with a credit card under their name. That card is to be used exclusively for gas.  

This is actually a bit of family tradition. My parents did the same for me and my siblings as we all left home over the years. Don’t get the wrong idea; this is a generous act! But also, being honest, I know all four of us used those credit cards the wrong way at one point or another. 

We all learned lessons, perhaps the hard way, about managing financial information our parents provided back then. Today, the number of digital and online accounts we carry with us means learning those lessons early is increasingly important for an online generation. 

 When kids leave the nest, it’s time to re-evaluate privacy 

As children take their devices out into the world, parents might want to reassess how much personal information they share, especially when it's accessible to young adults living on their own. It’s a part of becoming an adult in a digital age for them to take on looking after their own privacy. If they have access to credit cards or other account logins under your name, it's worth considering and discussing whether that access is still appropriate. 

Providing a credit card under your name, like the case mentioned above, is a thoughtful option if you want to give a young adult the means to pay for something in the case of an emergency. However, if that information was ever stolen, the ramifications from fraudulent purchases or illegal activity come home to the parents, while the child might never know what happened or how. 

Another element to consider is the online services you share among family members, and how those services are accessed. Perhaps you share a family account for a streaming content provider or an online retailer. If scammers should ever get access to a device that’s logged in, or if they manage to steal the email and password for an account, they can easily start exploring what other services you have where you use the same username and password. 

Steps to consider to ensure everyone’s safety 

There are things we can do to help protect ourselves and our families from online threats. Let's discuss. 

Talk to your kids about protecting sensitive data

Step one is to sit down with our young adults and have the talk…about protecting sensitive data.  

For example, while they are a tech-savvy generation, young people can still be the target of increasingly sophisticated scams or phishing schemes. Their vulnerability to these threats could jeopardize the secure information they have access to, especially if they are not well-versed in identifying such risks. As they navigate the complexities of adulting, the sensitive data they hold can also be at risk. 

Review the logins your kids have

If they’re going to be in a place where they’ll have new roommates, new colleagues, or new classmates, you should look at what access they have on their mobile devices, tablets, and laptops. What passwords are saved in their apps and web browsers? Are those logins that they should continue to have? 
Whether the answer about continued access is yes or no, it’s also a good time to ask them about their device settings. How soon do their devices lock themselves and require a password to unlock, and do they know how to manually lock their device if they ever have to leave it behind? 

Keeping up with software updates

Another topic for review could be how often they update their software and antivirus. While they’re browsing the internet on their own or connecting to wifi networks that could be dodgy, are they taking steps to protect themselves from potential malware that could steal account information? 

Consider credit monitoring

Lastly, because of the increased risk of theft of credit information, it’s a great time to consider setting up credit monitoring—both for parents and for young adults who might be applying for their first cards on their own. In either case, it’s much easier to catch and resolve problems early if you have a service automatically looking for questionable activity. 

Making digital safety a family tradition

For parents, it's important to understand and recognize the risks of continuing to share financial and account access, and consider open discussions with their children about data security, responsibility, and the importance of the boundaries you set. With the right information, you’ll be adding a layer of safety for your accounts, and teaching them better digital safety habits as they enter the next phase of their adulthood. 

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