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Can a minor be sued for using an adult's credit card?

By

To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear To Her Credit,
My sister signed onto a record label when she was 15. Her boss gave her his Macy's credit card and said to buy some outfits that would make her a good representative of the company, which she did.

My mom, who was my sister's guardian, told him specifically not to give her the credit card, but he did anyway. There was never any written agreement that said she had to pay back the purchases.

Now, four years after the last purchase was made and my sister is over 18, her old boss (she is no longer affiliated with the label) is attempting to sue her for the charges she made as a minor, and wants her to pay him back. Is she liable for those charges?    -- Khouri

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Khouri,
This story has "sleazy" written all over it. An adult promises a 15-year-old child a career in music and hands her his credit card. When the career doesn't immediately materialize, he wants his investment back.

He doesn't stand a chance in a court of law. He has no contract stating she would pay him back. Even if he did, it wouldn't be a valid contract with a 15-year-old. A contract made with an underage person doesn't suddenly become valid when the person turns 18.

I wouldn't worry about your sister's ex-boss reporting her to the credit bureaus. The credit bureaus don't take reports from just anyone -- certainly not from an individual with no written contract. The chances of this guy even trying to put a negative mark on her credit history, let alone succeeding, are slim. As always, your sister should check her credit report regularly and dispute this and any other bogus information if it shows up.

The ex-boss is probably bluffing about suing your sister. Given that he has no written promise to repay and she was under 18 at the time of the purchases, he has nothing to work with. If he tries, however, make sure she does not ignore the suit. Failure to respond to a lawsuit generally means the plaintiff gets a default judgment and can take action against her assets, including wages and bank account.

What bothers me more than this credit card fiasco is the idea that an adult got a 15-year-old's hopes up about a recording career and then behaved in an unprofessional manner. I hope he didn't get her to pay for photographs and promotional costs (like some unscrupulous "modeling" agencies). Assuming he was a legitimate recording studio agent, she must have talent. The best way to develop a 15-year-old's musical talent and career is slowly, with training and lots of performance experience. If he promised her a shortcut that never materialized, he may have discouraged her from a real career in music. That's worse than getting belated bills for a few bags full of clothes.

I hope your sister finds the success she is looking for, whether it's in music or any other field where she feels she has a calling. Good luck to both of you!

See related: Who's liable for underage credit card debt?

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Published: September 13, 2013


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