Can a minor be held responsible for repayment of a debt? The immediate answer to that question is: no. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a collector should discuss a past due debt with the minor’s parents. However, there are special circumstances where a minor can be responsible for paying a debt. An example of this would be emancipation. Even then, some states still hold the parents or legal guardians responsible when it’s “necessary”. However, once a patient turns the age of majority, the parents are no longer legally responsible for the payment of services.
The age of majority varies from state to state and is controlled by state law, not federal. The most common age used across the U.S is 18. Alabama, Delaware, and Nebraska have their age of majority at 19. The highest is Mississippi at 21 years of age. There are also states like Ohio and Nevada where the age is 18 or graduation from high school, whichever comes first. Tennessee and Arkansas are similar but it’s whichever comes later. It’s important that we as a collection agency understand these laws and abide by each state’s guidelines.
After reaching the age of majority, or upon emancipation, steps need to be taken in order to ensure the new adult is held responsible for their incurred debt. This is especially true if the adult son or daughter previously received treatment as a minor. This mostly applies to continuous care facilities like dentists and family doctors who may take care of the entire family. To create better documentation in case an account becomes past due, a separate account should be created for the new adult along with a new signed financial responsibility form. The parents are no longer responsible for their child’s debt, and without a signed financial responsibility form, it can be difficult to collect or litigate.
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