Debt can be voided if signer was a minor

Opening Credits columnist Eric Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for

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Question Dear Opening Credits,
I am 19 years old. I recently checked my credit score for the first time and was surprised to find it in the "poor" category. I saw that it was caused by two medical bills in which I was under the age of 18 during my visit. I read a similar question where you said to begin with the first step, which was to go to the hospital and request my medical records. During one of the two visits I was alone and I signed a bunch of paperwork (most likely not reading all of them). I believe I have signed one stating I am legally responsible for the charges. Is there still a way to fight that I was a minor and get it off my credit? -- Nikki

Answer Dear Nikki,
Because complexities within the law exist, it's a smart idea to consult with a qualified lawyer on these matters. So I contacted one on your behalf. According to Kirk Miller, an attorney practicing in Spokane, Washington, most likely the payment agreement you signed when you checked into the hospital is voidable because you were a minor at the time. "It's general contract law," says Miller.

You see, in most states, people under the age of 18 (as long as the courts havent ruled they are emancipated minors) cannot enter into legally binding contracts. Even when they do, it typically pertains to other types of agreements, such as life insurance plans and entertainment arrangements.

You did go to the hospital, receive services and put your name and signature on the paperwork. Consenting to pay the bill was nice, but since you were not an adult, the hospital would have had an extremely hard time enforcing it. Instead, it could have turned to your mom, dad, or guardian and attempted to collect from that person.

Without question, though, the original bills are with collection agencies now. Doctors, labs, clinics and hospitals don't hang on to unpaid accounts for long before selling them to third-party collectors. Since your name was on the documents, the collection agencies are sending the information about the account to the credit reporting agencies and that's appearing on your file.

The simplest solution is to dispute the accounts with a credit reporting agency. Avoid the online form and do it by good, old-fashioned snail mail instead. You only need to contact one of the agencies as they're required to notify the other two: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax 

Write a short but detailed description of the situation. It should read something like this:

"In month/year I went to X hospital. My birthday is X, so clearly I was a minor at the time and could not have agreed to or been held responsible for payment. Therefore, this debt of $X that is being reported by X collection agency to my credit file is incorrect and needs to be removed."

It would be helpful to scare up any supporting paperwork, too. If you don't have any, contact the hospital and ask that it sends you proof of service, with dates. This all will take some time, but the more evidence you can supply the credit reporting agency, the smoother the process will be.

Send the letter, paperwork and your credit report with the account that should not be appearing clearly highlighted to the credit reporting agency of your choice, certified mail, return-receipt requested. That agency will investigate and you should hear back within about 30 days. If it finds in your favor, hurrah! You can move on. But if it doesn't, try again. If you continue to battle this matter, reach out to the lawyers working for the National Association of Consumer Advocates for assistance. Sometimes you've got to call in the big guns.    

See related: Help your credit score rebound after a fall, Student card survey: Offers fewer but more generous, 10 surefire steps to getting credit report errors removed

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Updated: 01-18-2018