Hello Kitty as Big Banking's Joe Camel?

Is Hello Kitty the next Joe Camel? In the hands of Visa or MasterCard, it may well be, warns a Washington Post columnist.

The Washington Post's Michelle Singletary launched a broadside at the country's financial sector in her April 2 column "Credit Cards for Kids? Not in My House."

The Post finance columnist extracted a sinister motive for credit card companies marketing pre-paid debit cards for parents to issue their children in lieu of cash allowances or birthday presents. "They are not the same as gift cards because the intent is to emulate the credit-using experience," Singletary wrote.

But rather than seeing pre-paid debit cards as a money management tool, Singletary likened the "plastice devil" to gateway drugs.

"I was livid when the popular Hello Kitty brand for children introduced a MasterCard debit card targeted at 10- to 14-year-olds. Don't think for a second the companies marketing these cards have our children's best interests in mind. They have one goal -- to hook a customer as early in life as possible

"We are being hoodwinked and bamboozled by the credit card industry. Look, these people are dealers of debt. They shouldn't be trusted with our children."

But because Singletary admittedly has a bias against credit as "evil," her column overlooks the tools some pre-paid cards allow parents to analyze and address their children's spending patterns.

For example, on January 1, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran a feature about a Wisconsin family using the new pre-paid "Allow Card." The card, the paper reported, allows parents to

"set daily, weekly or monthly spending limits, review statements and even select where it can be used. For example, parents can make sure their children's debit cards work at gas stations but not liquor stores."

While Singletary has tipped the ledger heavily in favor of the liabilities of debit cards for kids, other columnists have given a more balanced view, noting the asset that the cards have proven to be both for parents and children.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters