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Information on Minor and Debt Responsibility

Can a minor be held responsible for credit card debt?

My daughter was sent two different credit cards when she was 17 and used them. She paid on the debt for awhile but then defaulted on them. Now one of the credit cards is garnishing her paycheck for over $3000. She originally owed less than $1000. Can this company hold her responsible when she was a minor when this occurred?

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Whether or not you daughter can be held legally liable for these debts depends on the laws of your state regarding debts incurred by minors. In most states, many obligations created by minors are voidable, as minors are not legally capable of entering binding contracts. Such contracts are usually not automatically void; rather they are “voidable,” meaning that they can be rescinded by either party due to the fact that one of the parties was a minor at the time the contract was created. However, many states provide exceptions to this rule for debts incurred for necessities, such as non-elective medical treatment. Even in cases in which a minor may be liable, some states require that the creditor attempt to collect from the minor’s parents prior to turning to the minor for payment, as parents are generally liable for any necessities required by their minor children. However, if the parents are unable to pay, the creditor may have a valid legal claim against the minor personally. Since the laws regarding debts created by minors vary significantly from state to state, I strongly encourage you and your daughter to consult with an attorney in your state to discuss her rights and obligations in this situation. Consulting with an attorney in your area should provide your daughter with the information she needs to determine her liability for these debts and what steps she can take to have the judgment entered against her overturned by the court. For example, your attorney may appeal the judgment or file another motion to have the judgment reconsidered; if your daughter is successful in having the judgment lifted, it should stop the garnishment and any other enforcement being pursued by the creditor.

If your daughter and her attorney determine that the contract creating this obligation was not legally binding, then the account should probably not be appearing on her credit report. A debt must be legally enforceable for the listing to accurately show up on a consumer’s credit reports. Your daughter may wish to dispute any listings related to the account with the three major consumer credit reporting agencies–Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. When she disputes the listings, she should explain to the credit bureaus that these debts are not legal obligations due to the fact that she was a minor when the debts were incurred; she may also wish to provide any documentation she has to substantiate her claim, such as a copy of her birth certificate and a copy of any state statute or court case which establishes that any contract entered into by a minor is void. The Federal Trade Commission offers a free guide on disputing inaccurate credit report listings, available online at FTC.gov

In addition to disputing these accounts with the credit bureaus, she may wish to formally dispute the validity of the debts with the creditor and debt collector directly, which will put the creditor on notice that you do not believe this debt to be a legally collectable obligation. An example dispute letter can be found on this link, though your daughter will need to tailor this letter to the specifics of her situation, explaining the fact that she was a minor at the time the debt was incurred. However, since she had a judgment entered against her already, she should probably work with her attorney to have the judgment overturned before she takes any steps to dispute the debt with the creditor, unless her attorney advises otherwise.

You should keep in mind that this may be a valid debt depending on your state’s laws related to obligations created by minors, so you should research your state’s laws and consult with an attorney before you decide the best course of action to resolve these accounts. If you find that your daughter is liable for the debts and would like to try to resolve the accounts, you should visit the Bills.com Debt Help page at http://www.bills.com/debt-help to learn about various options available to consumers to help them resolve their outstanding obligations. If you submit your contact information in the Bills.com Savings Center we can have several pre-screened debt relief professionals contact you to discuss the debt relief options available to your daughter.

As I mentioned above, the first thing you need to do is consult with an attorney to determine your daughter’s legal liability for this debt. From there, you can determine how to best address the debt and the wage garnishment. I wish you the best of luck in resolving these obligations, and hope that the information I have provided helps you Find. Learn. Save.

Best,

Bill

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