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BillMyParents makes it easy for kids to spend parents' money

It's cute, yes, but it's smart, too: New service lets children earmark goods for later purchase by their parents.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

There's a cute new payment service just launching: BillMyParents. It's a way that kids ("tweens," according to the founder) can shop in online stores and easily spend their parents' money--if their parents later agree to buy them the stuff they want.

The system puts little BillMyParents buttons next to items in online retail. To check out, kids write optional notes to their parents about the items they want. Parents get e-mail notifications and can approve and pay for individual items directly.

Kids never get access to their parents' credit cards. And parents don't have to visit the store sites their children found the items on.

Jim Collas, CEO of SocialWise, which makes BillMyParents, says it is "focused on the communication between tween and parent." As inclined as I am to disparage systems that put the Web in the middle of the parent/child relationship, I actually think this idea works. It doesn't reduce or remove communication in a family, in fact it could increase it. And it makes it easier to mark, track, and purchase online items.

When a child sends parents a request through BillMyParents, the parent can buy the item directly from the request page. Or, of course, deny it. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

BillMyParents is also focused on making money. Collas points to the $28 billion spent online by the "youth demographic," and says he's also eyeing the $40 billion spent offline on products researched on the Web. Much of this commerce, he says, goes offline because the child can't buy the item. BillMyParents will make money from transaction feeds.

The challenge of BillMyParents is that is has to be integrated into online retail sites. At launch, the company has no customers to announce. The company will have an Amazon affiliate store, though, which will let any item on that service get routed through BillMyParents for approval, and then back to Amazon for purchase.

But Collas said he believes his solution will increase commerce on the sites it ends up on. He says the BillMyParents buttons can be placed on item pages, not in an online store's shopping cart, which makes the kids' "check-out" that much easier. Also, he points to the opportunities to integrate with sites and online worlds that sell virtual goods.

A secondary line of service, a debit card that can be loaded up with a kid's allowance, is coming in the future. Also, when I jokingly asked Collas if he was going to release services like "BillMyHusband" or "BillMyWife," he said seriously that he has registered many other "BillMy" domains. He does not have plans to expand his market from the youth demographic, though.

I believe this service's primary challenge is one of sales. It needs to get some merchants on board. PayPal could compete with it. So could the credit card companies. But those companies could also buy BillMyParents. It's a smart business.