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Medical Bills and Minors – What You Need to Know

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It’s bad enough to owe medical debt you can’t pay. But what if you’re young and being hounded by collectors for medical bills that were incurred when you were just a kid? Our series of articles about medical collection accounts has continually been one of the most popular on our blog. As a result, we’ve been flooded with questions, some relating to medical bills and minors.

Scenario 1: A young person received medical treatment a few years ago when he or she was under 18 and under their parents’ care. The parents didn’t pay the bills and now collectors are trying to collect from the youth. What are his or her rights and responsibilities?

“In most, if not all states, a minor lacks the capacity or legal ability to enter into a contract,” asserts Ted Connolly, a bankruptcy and asset protection lawyer at Looney & Grossman in Boston. That’s why medical providers require their parents to sign financial responsibility agreements before providing care. “To attempt to collect the debt on which the creditor cannot show a contract or an underlying basis would violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,” he says.

Specifically, he points to this section of the FDCPA:

Unfair practices [15 USC 1692f]

A debt collector may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section: (1) The collection of any amount (including any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation) unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.

Connolly’s advice here:

What a consumer should NOT do in this circumstance: Pay the bill. He or she is not legally obligated to a debt as a minor even though he or she has reached the age of majority. I can see a very remote possibility of the consumer having some responsibility on this debt under an unjust enrichment cause of action. But the creditor would have to sue in court asserting unjust enrichment and I don’t imagine that happening unless the amount owed is huge.

What a consumer should do in this circumstance: 1) Respond to the creditor demanding to see proof of the debt — the creditor must respond within 30 days and it could likely end the collection efforts because the consumer will not be party to the contract; 2) Send a letter mentioning the FDCPA and demanding to cease all correspondences regarding this debt; 3) If the creditor persists in its collection of this debt, the consumer should consider contacting his or her attorney general’s office and/or contacting a lawyer who would take on the case on a contingency basis. (Attorney’s fees and costs can be collected under the FDCPA.)

But there is still a small risk the collector could try to take legal action. It’s true that “minors usually do not have the legal capability to enter into contracts,” agrees Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center. “However, in many states, the minor could be sued under the theory of ‘Quantum Meruit’, which is an equitable claim based on the idea that the minor received services from the provider, the minor benefited from the services, and the provider should receive the reasonable value of those services in compensation. No formal contract is required for a claim of quantum meruit, in fact, that’s the whole idea of the theory. It’s the same theory that holds a patient liable for a hospital bill even if he is brought in unconscious (and thus could not have consented to a contract).”

Atlanta bankruptcy attorney Jonathan Ginsberg agrees with both Wu and Connelly, saying that “there are two types of contracts at play in this situation, express written contracts and implied contracts.” The parents probably signed an express written contract when they took their child in for treatment, while the child perhaps could be held responsible under an “implied contract theory — in other words when you ask a physician to perform services there is a reasonable expectation that you will need to pay for those services. The question — can a minor child bind himself contractually if he is under the age of 18? The answer to this will depend on state law. Obviously if the child was 10 at the time of the treatment then the answer is “no.” If the child was 17 1/2 — maybe a closer call.”

Ginsberg says that if this were his client, he would advise them to ask the debt collector to verify the debt “and an explanation as to how a minor child can be bound to a contract that he did not expressly enter and that was created at the time the child was a minor.” That would likely be enough to get them to back down. ” My guess is that the collector would have an uphill battle collecting from a person on a debt incurred when that person was a minor and not legally competent to enter into contracts.”

Of course, Mom and Dad are not off the hook here: they are likely still responsible for the bills, either because they signed an agreement accepting financial responsibility or because they in many states parents are responsible for their minor children’s necessary medical care under what’s called “doctrines of necessaries.”

And that brings up another scenario raised by a reader:

Scenario 2: A father signed a financial responsibility agreement with his son’s dentist when his son was 17. Now it’s a few years later and his son received treatment as an adult but the dental office is still holding the father responsible for the unpaid bill saying that the financial responsibility agreement still applies. Is this something parents need to watch out for?

Parents need to be careful here, especially if their children continue to receive medical care as adults from the same providers they used as children.

“If the financial responsibility agreement is open-ended and would combine as a parental consent agreement coupled with an open-ended co-signing agreement, then Dad might still be on the hook,” warns Southern California consumer law attorney Robert Brennan. But “if it is pretty strictly limited to financial responsibility while the kid is a minor, or is limited to a specific term of treatment (i.e. until the kid is 18), then Dad should be off the hook.”

While this isn’t the kind of problem most parents would anticipate, parents of children who are not managing their finances well may want to avoid future problems by notifying medical providers that they will no longer pay for their care. “The father needs to send written notice to the dentist stating that he disclaims future responsibility for his now adult son’s treatment. By putting the dentist on notice, he would have an argument that the original contact has been canceled and no longer binds him,” advises Ginsberg.

“This is definitely something every parent should keep in mind when signing financial responsibility agreements,” Connolly warns.

Finally there is a third scenario that has reared its ugly head more than once: separated parents who refuse to pay their share of their children’s medical bills.

Scenario 3: Divorced parents have agreements spelled out as to which spouse pays the medical bills, or how they are allocated. The parent who should be paying those bills per that agreement doesn’t and the other spouse is being contacted by collection agencies. What is that parent’s rights, responsibilities and options?

“The controversies in divorces never seem to cease,” observes Connolly. He says that both parents are responsible to the creditor (the medical provider). “The settlement agreement, even if approved by the court, does not stop the creditor’s ability to collect from either parent if both are liable at the time of the debt. What this means to parents: even though one parent may not be responsible under the divorce settlement, he or she will still have to pay in order to avoid collection efforts, negative impact on the credit score, and potential legal action. Both are legally obligated to pay the debt. However, if a parent pays these bills for which he or she was not obligated under the settlement, he or she should collect from the other parent, even if it means going to divorce court to do so.”

“This happened to me personally when I got divorced,” says Michelle Dunn who worked in debt collections for over 25 years, including experience in medical collections. “This is very common. All the person that is not responsible has to do is make a copy of the portion of their divorce decree that shows the other parent is responsible, and send that to the agency.”

If that doesn’t work, Ginsberg suggests that the spouse who is “being dunned go back to the divorce court and file a motion to hold the other parent in contempt. If the dunned parent gets sued, she could cross claim the other parent on the basis of the non-paying parent’s contractual obligations.”

Image: Alex E. Proimos, via Flickr

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  • Credit Experts

    We are sorry to hear about your difficulties and hope your daughter is now healthy. Showing your daughter as guarantor is almost certainly a mistake. If you made arrangements with one creditor to pay a certain amount monthly with an in-network provider, it’s unlikely that the out-of-network provider is bound by it. Here are a couple of posts addressing the issue:
    Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly
    Can I Pay a Creditor Less Than I Owe?
    Good luck in getting the financial part of your daughter’s surgery behind you

  • Credit Experts

    Although we are not lawyers and can’t give you legal advice, we can tell you there is a very good chance that you are responsible for those bills. In many states, the parent/parents are required to cover their children’s health care. This post may be useful in understanding how the laws work:
    Help! My Ex is Trying to Stick Me with the Kids’ Medical Bills

  • Michael Bovee

    Are you able to pay anything toward the bill?

  • Credit Experts

    Chelsey —
    You will need to dispute the information in your credit reports with all three credit-reporting agencies. This article tells you how: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes. In your case, you should dispute by mail, and include a copy of your birth certificate. Send it certified mail, and keep copies of everything (your letters and receipts). You can do the same with the collectors, and you may also tell them to stop contacting you about the debt, explaining that you do not owe it (also keep documentation). If you continue to have problems, you can report it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or consider hiring a consumer-law attorney. You are right; you are not responsible for medical bills incurred when you were 16, and they should not be harming your credit now that you are an adult.

    Good luck to you, and please let us know what happens.

  • Kevin

    The section regarding Ted Connolly’s statements
    could you reply with the correct citation for me? I intend to cite it on my behalf to dispute a bill wrongfully placed in my name, similar to chelsea below me.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I’m sorry I don’t have that information and it may vary by state. But if you are just disputing it with the provider or the collection agency I don’t think you need to cite specific laws. You can just state in plain English why you don’t believe the bill is yours. If they dispute that you can always file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or get an attorney involved.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Have you tried disputing it with the collection agency? Send them a certified letter, explain that you were a minor at the time and your father was responsible, and asked them to stop collecting the debt and remove it from your credit reports. If they don’t, I’d suggest you file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If he is an adult, then the medical bills are his responsibility not yours. Did you try to find out whether he is eligible for financial assistance? If not, I’d suggest you get on that as soon as possible because otherwise he could be stuck with a very large bill he can’t pay and bad credit at a time when he’s just supposed to be starting out building credit. I am sure this is a whole new process for him, so you probably need to help him stay on top of these bills and find a way to deal with them.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    As we wrote in the article, parents are typically held responsible for their minor children’s necessary medical expenses, even if they didn’t explicitly sign something to that effect.

    This is a very large bill, so yI would suggest you consult with a consumer law attorney with experience in medical debt. (That may be a bankruptcy attorney.) Unfortunately, if you can’t come to an agreement with the provider, you may be sued in this large debt could be enough to push you into bankruptcy if you don’t have the ability to cover it.

  • Credit Experts

    Did she actually become an emancipated minor?

    Parents are typically held responsible for medical expenses of children who have not reached their 18th birthday.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Sure – let me know how this turns out. Sure sounds like a nightmare but I hope your son’s okay.

  • Sheri

    My mom refused to allow me to take care of any of my medical bills until i moved out in October of 2012. All of the medical bills on my credit score are from early that year or before. I turned 18 in Feb of that year. who is liable for those accounts? most of which are from the year before.

    • Credit Experts

      Your parents are presumably responsible for bills you incurred when you were a minor. Are the bills showing up on your credit reports?

      • Sheri

        yes. there’s a total of seven of them. one is from after i was 18 but my mom insisted she’d take care of it. the rest are all from before but went into collection after. i never got an actual bill for any of them.

      • Sheri

        yes, they are. what can i do? what about the ones after i turned 18 that i didn’t receive a bill for because my mom insisted she’d take care of it?

        • Credit Experts

          What a mess this is for you.
          The bill from after you were 18 would be your responsibility, though it’s easy to see how you were not aware of it. We’re so sorry things worked out the way they seem to have.

          Have you tried to contact the health care provider about the situation? In the case of your credit reports, you can dispute the reports from before you were 18, and those should be removed from your credit reports. You will need to send your birth certificate, and do it certified mail. Here’s how: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

          And are these bills ones that you can reasonably afford to pay?

          • Sheri

            some of them possibly but it would take me a long time. my husband and i can barely make ends meet now with me being in college.

          • Credit Experts

            Have you been in touch with the health care provider? It’s possible you could negotiate a payment plan (or even a smaller bill). It can’t hurt to ask.

  • Credit Experts

    Dave —
    Bills incurred when you were younger than 18 are almost always your parents’ responsibility. However, it’s a good idea to check your free annual credit reports to make sure the debt is not listed. Check the reports from each of the three credit reporting bureau. If you should find it, you will need to dispute it with the credit bureaus, sending a letter explaining that you were under 18 when the debt was incurred, and a copy of your birth certificate. Here’s how to do that: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes. Good luck to you.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If you were 15 at the time you received the services, then your parents were probably responsible not you (as you couldn’t enter into a contract at the time). But I’d suggest you double check with a consumer law attorney. If you are on your own now, you may be eligible for help from you local Legal Aid. Will you let us know what they say?

  • lisa

    I have a 15 year old son who recently was arrested and received a public defender. I am recently unemployed, and he’s father is decreased. I am now being told that the court is trying to holdt his step father legally responsible for my son’s legal costs. Can they do that.
    Reason I ask is because he has a bioligical son and when he was going to court for child support the court told him supporting my children didn’t count because they weren’t his kids. But now that they want money they want them to be his kid’s.

    • Credit Experts

      Lisa —
      We’re sorry to hear you’re going through this with your family.

      We aren’t lawyers, though, and it sounds like you and your husband need to talk with one. Given that you are unemployed right now, your best bet is probably a local legal aid society.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Ayesha –

    I wish I could answer your question but I don’t know the answer. It’s not a scenario we’ve run across before. We are going to have to suggest you talk with a consumer law attorney. If you can’t afford one, you may want to see if you are eligible for help from Legal Aid. I wouldn’t just rely on what the creditor or collector is telling you.

  • Credit Experts

    Ann —
    In general, no, parents are not responsible for medical bills incurred by their adult children, even if the children are on the parents’ policy. You can read more about it here: Will Keeping Your Kids On Your Insurance Hurt Your Credit?

  • Emily

    I just started to receive bills from collections after 5 years. I have never once received a bill from the provider. I was 18 years old but still in high school. I was under my mom’s insurance but it apparently did not cover anything. My parent’s had filed bankruptcy and the bills up until I graduated high school should of been filed in there. I am just a little confused because if a parent has to pay child support on a child until they graduate or age 25 if they continue their education, the parent’s should be responsible for the medical bills as well. My mother contacted the lawyer who filed the bankruptcy but said I was responsible because I was 18. I am going to call them because I need the account numbers that were filed under the bankruptcy to see if my bills were filed under it as well. I am not very happy it took them 5 years to contact me about this debt when I have been going to the same place for the last 5 years and nothing has been said to me. I would of taken care of these right away under my parent’s bankruptcy because I had talked to a person that said my parent’s could have filed these bills since I was still in high school. Any suggestion on who I could talk to, to see if I have to pay these bills even though I was in high school? Thanks!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Emily –

      Make sure your mom asks the bankruptcy attorney what the statute of limitations is for these debts. Although you got a lousy deal here they will come off your credit reports in 7 years plus 180 days from the date the bill was due but wasn’t paid (not from the date they were sent to collections). Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

  • Lous

    In September my mom and I (I’m 17) went to the hospital and really they did nothing but look and prescribe me antibiotics because I have no insurance. Long story short, they put me as the guarantor* instead of my mom, even though I’m still underage. Now they’re sending bills in my name after we’ve called them numerous times to put it under my mom’s name. Can I please get some advice? I called the billing company and they said something about facesheet, but didn’t go into clear detail.

    Responses would be much appreciated! Thank you in advance.

    • Credit Experts

      Lous —
      You are right; you are too young to be the guarantor. Who is the “they?” The hospital? Other health care providers? Debt collectors? Have you let the creditors know, in writing, that you were underage? (You can send a copy of your birth certificate via certified mail.) But at 17, unless there are extenuating circumstances, your parents should have responsibility for your medical expenses.

  • gg

    I am hoping you can help me. My husband has paid dental insurance benefits for both his minor children whom reside with his ex in a neighboring state. The ex-wife took the older minor child to the ortho and had braces put on without the consent of the father and knew he had insuracne. The insurance turns out is not picking up the cost beucase she chose an out of network provider. The claim was filed and denied, but he is now expected to pay half the out of pocket cost. It says there is a 180 right to appeal the decision, is there anything that can be done?

    • Credit Experts

      Unfortunately, we’re not lawyers, and it sounds as if you and your husband need legal advice. Parents are generally responsible for the health care expenses of their minor children. But you have a complex situation and may need the advice of an expert.

  • Chrissy

    Last year my step-son was living with his mom and she took him to the ER 2-3 times without giving them his insurance information and she told them he was self pay KNOWING that he had insurance! Bills have been rolling in and we kept calling and telling the hospital to take it up with his mom, which they have tried but she just ignores the phone calls. He is now 17 and bills have still not been paid. My question is, will this get turned over to him being responsible when he turns 18? Or will it stay being his moms responsibility?

    • Credit Experts

      He will not be responsible for health bills incurred when he was a minor.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    As we explain in the article, in some states parents are legally responsible for necessary medical expenses for their minor children even if they don’t sign paperwork agreeing to be responsible. However, I don’t know what the laws in Texas say specifically. You may want to try contacting the Texas Consumer Complaint Center

  • Credit Experts

    If the bill was incurred after she was 18, you are probably not responsible. In much the same way, parents who keep their adult children on the parents’ policies are not responsible for the adult children’s co-pays, etc.

  • Credit Experts

    You are almost certainly not responsible for this bill. To get it removed, you’ll need to dispute it with all three credit reporting bureaus. You’ll want to do this by certified mail, and enclose a copy of your birth certificate. Here’s how to dispute it:
    A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes
    Glad to hear you are already monitoring your scores. It’s a good habit.

    • Kkttww

      Thanks a bunch!! :)

  • Gerri Detweiler

    As I mentioned in the article, you may be. You’ll need to consult a consumer law attorney in your state to find out for sure. If you are having trouble finding an attorney I suggest you use the search function on the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Are you saying your daughter got a bill from HER birth? And she’s 7 years old now? Sorry but I don’t quite understand the scenario.

    As for the second question, the divorce decree does not affect the original contract with the creditors. Any bills you are jointly liable for you remain 100% liable for in terms of your responsibility to the creditor. Therefore your credit report won’t reflect how you split the bills up in your divorce decree.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I agree it’s frustrating. Maybe try filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…?

    • Scott

      Thanks for the tip, filed it last night. 😉

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Let us know what happens!

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You may be. It really depends on state law. However, the other wrinkle is that this debt is now seven years old. If you never made a payment on it than the statute of limitations may have expired. That seems to be the case based on my understanding of the statute of limitations in your state, but I’m not an attorney so I would recommend you check with one to be sure. You can find one through the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. This article may help: Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

  • Credit Experts

    Miss Ellie —
    Let the debt collector know you were a minor at the time. You should also order copies of your credit reports to see if this collection is reported.
    Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports. If the collection is on there, you should dispute it with each of the credit bureaus, sending each a certified letter, along with a copy of your birth certificate. Here’s how to dispute: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes.

    Good luck, and please let us know how this works out for you.

  • Maegen

    Okay I have a serious bone disease…as a child I had surgeries done with this doctor so there’s a bill my parents didn’t pay (2grand) I am now 24 and I need to see that doctor again for some issues happening concerning my bone disease. do I have any legal rights? the office lady refuses to make me an appointment and I can’t find another doctor who knows my disease! help please

    • Credit Experts

      Maegen —
      We are sorry to hear this. Is there any chance to doctor’s office would accept a payment plan? And is the office clear that these are charges incurred when you were a minor (thus not responsible for them)? There is nothing that we know of that would force a doctor’s office to see or keep seeing a patient. One idea might be to try to crowd fund the money needed to pay that old bill, if that’s what’s keeping you from getting the care you need. Here’s a link:

  • Jordan Gage

    I went to the doctor when I was 16 and they never had my parents sign anything. Now they are after me trying to collect money from when I was a minor. Talked to them and they took it out of my name, but now are my parents going to be affected by it? I am on my dad’s insurance, but he never signed anything and lives in another state.

    • Credit Experts

      If you were a minor when you received treatment, your parents are almost certainly responsible for paying for it. You didn’t say how recently you were 16, so it’s hard to know how late this bill is. But if it has been sent to collections, it can have a significant impact on their credit. They can check to see if it’s on their reports by ordering a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. Here’s how they can get their free annual credit reports.

  • Credit Experts

    In most other cases, a parent would be responsible. Here’s what we suggest: Send disputes to each of the credit reporting agencies, and include copies of your birth certificate, and an explanation that you were a minor when the charges were incurred. Keep careful records of what you sent and proofs of receipt. Here’s how to file a dispute: How Do I Dispute an Error on My Credit Report?

  • Morgan

    I was under the age of 18 and lived with my mom. A credit collection agency is trying to get me to pay 2 bills from when I was 15 and when I had just turned 17. they together equal $1080.60. I can not pay this at all I am living on my own and going to college. I just turned 18 and pay all my medical bills I get as of now but am getting bills from before I was 18. They keep threatening and saying they will report it to they credit bureau. What are my rights?

  • Marissa

    When I was in high school (age 17) I was covered under my mom and dad’s insurance. I had an exam done and aparently my parents never paid the medical bill. Now I am 20 yrs old and i have bill collectors trying to contact me to pay it. Am I responsible for paying the bill since I was a minor?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Marissa – We tried to answer that question in the article. There are some grey areas as we pointed out. You can try disputing it in writing with the collector stating that you were a minor and see what happens. But beyond that, we’d have to suggest you talk with a consumer law attorney in your state as this can vary by state.

  • Diamond

    I’m lost I don’t know what to do. When I was 17 I went to the hospital and my bill came out to 1,200. I’m now almost 18 and The bill was never payed and I keep getting phone calls and letters from debt collectors. What do I do In this situation do I have to pay?

    • Credit Experts

      Diamond —
      Let the debt collector know you were a minor when the charges were incurred. You can even ask them not to contact you about the debt, or to contact you only by mail. Then get copies of your credit reports, one from each of the credit reporting agencies. If those collections appear, dispute them (you will see the address of each bureau at the top of the report). You will need a copy of your birth certificate. Send that, plus a letter explaining that you were a minor when those bills were incurred and that you were not responsible for payment. Send it via certified mail. Keep copies of everything. Here are some links to help you:
      How Do I Get My Free Annual Credit Report?
      A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • lisa

    My 16 year old daughter called the paramedics for minor pain in her wrist. I was at work and didn’t realize that they were calling and so that meant they were unable to contact me. The paramedics still transported without my consent and for a little wrist pain that my daughter was being overly dramatic about. The paramedics even agreed that this constitute as an emergency. I tried to dispute this charge because I’m didn’t provide consent for her to be transported or treated .They still want me to pay $796 for a non emergency call. I don’t feel this is correct. Any way that I can still dispute this and not pay?

    • Credit Experts

      In general, parents would be responsible (in much the same you would be responsible if you called emergency responders for something that turned out not to require urgent care). We are now lawyers, however, and we can’t give you legal advice.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Diamond – We tried to lay out the issues involved in this situation in this article, but beyond that we can’t give you legal advice. You may want to talk with a consumer law attorney in your area to find out if you can be held responsible for this debt incurred while you were a minor. If you need help finding one you can visit the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. The first consultation should be free or low-cost. You may also be able to get free help through
    Legal Aid.

  • Jennifer Simmons LaPenna

    My daughter fainted at school and the school thought she had a siezure. She was transported by ambulance to the ER and now I owe thousands in medical bills. She was responsive and walked to the ambulance which was not an emergancy. Am I responsible or is the school? We live in Colorado

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I highly doubt the school is responsible and I assume you are but we aren’t attorneys so we can’t say for certain. You may need to talk with a consumer law attorney locally for advice.

  • Homaira matti

    I have a medical bill for my son who is minor and I already paid so much and they send my bill for collection after I told them that I can not pay this big bill if they can make payment arrangement and they said they will allow me to pay $150 a month which I am not working and can not pay that amount. Now they say it is not going on my credit it is for minor but I have to pay otherwise the fees are adding.
    So if is minor would that affect him when he is 18? Or would that go on my credit if I was the responsiable party?
    What should i do at this point I already paid over $1500.
    How long the medical collection stay on the credit report?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      As we pointed out in the article it’s not always crystal-clear whether the minor can be held responsible for the bill, but usually if they do get a bill (or a collection account on their credit reports) for a bill that was incurred when they were a minor they can dispute it and oftentimes the collector won’t pursue it.

      But for you, as the parent and the responsible party, it is different. You may find this collection account on your credit reports. Collection accounts can be reported for seven years plus 180 days from the original date of deliquency–the date you fell behind with the original creditor. You didn’t say how much is left on this bill, but generally if you have a collection account you can’t pay, your only options are to: ignore it and see what happens (you could be sued), try to settle the balance for a smaller amount or file for bankruptcy. You may want to at least get a free consultation with a bankruptcy attorney who can go over your options with you.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It he was eight? No I highly doubt it I was under the impression he was much older. It is possible that they could try to collect from you and your husband though. If you continue to work with them they may leave him out of it, but he may be legally responsible since it is his son too. Be sure to share your experience with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau–they are looking into medical debt, especially as it affects credit reports.

  • Alexander

    My ex-wife always took responsibility for my daughter’s medical/dental bills since she was a child because she was covered by her insurance. My daughter is now 22, and in the midst of a 3 year-long treatment plan for dental implants, my ex-wife took her off her benefit plan (for personal reasons) and is expecting me to pay the bill in full ($4000). The dental invoice is in my ex-wife’s name (my daughter was listed as a child under her account), so I’m asking who would be responsible to pay for the bill, my daughter or my ex-wife? Thank you.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If your daughter is an adult, age 22, then she is responsible for her medical bills. It’s possible they could also try to collect from your ex-wife if she signed paperwork accepting financial responsibility. But that wouldn’t prevent them from trying to collect from your daughter as well if that’s what you are asking.

  • Brandon Provitera

    I have a problem, I am 18 and I’m just starting out my life in college ect. Between the ages of 16-17 I had mental health issues. I was amited to hospitals in Georgia and Alabama. My parents put those bills on me for my care. While there I never signed anything saying they could do this. Now I am in a huge debt and my credit score is very bad. What is your advice on what I should do?

    • Credit Experts

      Were you an “emancipated minor”?

      Typically health care bills incurred by minors are the responsibility of the parents. The first thing you can do is to contact your creditors (in writing) and enclose a copy of your birth certificate, and send it certified mail, so you can have proof they received it. Let them know you were not of legal age when services were rendered. Keep copies of everything. You may want to send copies to the credit bureaus as well (you would be disputing information in your credit report).

      It’s possible you don’t owe this debt, and if that’s the case, you shouldn’t pay it, nor should your credit score suffer.

      If you continue to have difficulty (of if it is already in collections and no one is responding to your concerns), you can submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

      • Brandon Provitera

        I know for a fact that I was not emancipated. The only way I know that they are medical bills is I did a reverse search on the name that appeared on my credit score. They have never contacted me about debt collections. The only other thing on my account is my student loan, and that is not open currently. This medical bill is not huge but the fact that it has been open so long has messed up my credit. I don’t know if I should go looking for these collectors.

        • Credit Experts

          Brandon —
          It’s possible this is a mistake made by the health care providers. You can dispute it with all three credit reporting agencies. You can also reach out to the collectors, also sending proof of age, and let them know you are not responsible for the bill. Here’s how to dispute the information on your credit reports:
          A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

          Your credit scores should rise after this negative information is removed.

          Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.

          And if you have credit lines established, the best thing you can do to help your credit is to pay on time. Other suggestions are here:
          How to Build Credit the Smart Way

          • Brandon Provitera

            Thank you so much for this. This was very helpful.

          • Credit Experts

            You are most welcome.

  • Ian

    My adult son is under 26 and is covered under my health insurance policy. He had a debt to a medical provider that went to collections. I discovered through a fraud alert that I now have a collections account on my credit report. Can I be held responsible for my son’s medical debt since he is on my insurance policy?

    • Credit Experts

      Not unless there is some sort of agreement about that. Your best bet is to dispute the information, explaining that your son is covered by your insurance, but you are not responsible for his debts. You may want to also enclose a copy of his birth certificate. Here’s how to dispute the information with the credit bureaus:
      A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • theresa

    We have power of attorney for our neice Who is uninsured. Parents abandoned her and we are in the process of getting guardianship. We had to call emergency services for her. We did not sign financial obligation contract. Can we be held liable?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      The American Bar Association publishes information on line about legal responsibilities of guardians. I’d suggest you start there. Beyond that, we’re not attorneys and though we doubt it, we haven’t researched this issue so we can’t answer specifically. In the future, make sure you are very careful when signing any documents related to her medical care.

  • Fatima

    My son is 5 years old and I recently recieved a letter in the mail from a collection agency addressed to him saying he owes a debt from his former hospital…he has insurance so I’m not sure how he can owe anything but what advice do you have for me and what can I do to pursue this?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I would contact the hospital to find out what’s going on. A five-year-old should not be getting a medical bill. You as the parent may be responsible, but he shouldn’t. It’s possible his information is being used for identity theft, or it’s possible there records are wrong and they didn’t properly bill insurance. It’s really hard to say but I’d say the first step is to talk to the provider.

      • Fatima

        I am so pissed..but I contacted the hospital I was told the same thing you just said by someone who from their bill paying department and then she transfer me to another lady because I guess she did not want to be a part of it and the second person I spoke to told me that they did send it out in his name but the hospital do not send bills to the collection agency and they just created the letter to get my attention. I am absolutely not stupid at all so I contacted the collection agency and I gave them the file number and they stated my five year old name and the hospital name as the one who indeed submitted the information to the collection agency. Prior to my calling the collection agency I mentioned to the hospital that my son has insurance and they mention to me that they checked his insurance but I believe it was only checked once because the insurance that they had on file is a old insurance and he has a new insurance that he had for a year now…I have no idea how to pursue this because the hospital admits to sending out a bill in my son name…

        • Gerri Detweiler

          You have two options. One would be to contact a consumer law attorney who regularly works with consumers with debt collection complaints. If they think you have a good case they may be willing to help you for free. The other option would be to file a complaint with the CFPB. I’d love to find out what happens…

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Thank you for this interesting question. We wrote an article in response. You can read it here: Help! A Debt Collector Is Going After My 5-Year-Old

  • Sandy Peng

    Hi, I need help with my situation. I went to the Emergency Room at a hospital in 2010 when I was 15 years old for an upper respiratory infection. The services (medication in the form of a shot) should have been covered by my insurance (Medi-Cal, Anthem Blue Cross) since ER visits are covered (almost everyone in my family has gone to the ER at least once before and they have never been charged). I’m now 19 and I find out I have bad credit score due to something that wasn’t even in my control when I was 15 years old. It turns out they sent this issue to a collections agency, CMRE, who is reporting a “derogatory” mark on my credit score. I can’t even apply for a college credit card because this has negatively affected my credit. I don’t know whether to take this issue up with the hospital/Medi-Cal or the debt collection agency. What is the best way to remove this derogatory mark on my credit report and settle the debt (which should have been paid by my insurance, Medi-Cal/Anthem Blue Cross, in the first place) ?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      With regard to your credit, follow the procedures required by law and dispute this with each major credit reporting agency, keeping good records of your disputes. You can simply state that you were a minor and this is not your bill.

      If the collection agency contacts you directly, insist they put it in writing (do not discuss over the phone) and then you can dispute it in writing with them simply stating that you don’t believe you owe the bill.

      If this does not resolve it, I’d recommend you consult with a consumer law attorney who should be able to help you at no out of pocket cost to you.

      • Sandy Peng

        Hi Gerri, thank you for your quick reply. I really appreciate all your help. Do you think I should even go to this hospital first and see if this medical bill was paid 5 years ago or not? Or should I skip this step and just order credit reports from the all 3 major credit bureaus and dispute this derogatory mark on the report due to the fact that I was a minor at that time?

        • Gerri Detweiler

          You can certainly try contacting them but my concern is that at this late date it’s going to be difficult to verify anything. My suggestion is that you should protect your rights under federal law by following the proper procedures.

          I should add that in some states minors can be held liable for necessary medical bills but I don’t know that is the case in California. But even if it were, it sounds like the California statute of limitations (generally four years) has expired.

          I am not an attorney though so please don’t take this as legal advice.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    What state did this happen in? Who are “they” – a collection agency or the ER?

    • vivian

      In Illinois and “they” are the hospital in which she was taken

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Sorry about the minor question — I had to read your question again.

        I don’t have a simple solution for you unfortunately. It’s possible your mother signed something when she was admitted agreeing to take financial responsibility, but it’s hard to say.

        It’s a shame that they are even allowed to bill at such a late date. And I am not aware of Illinois state laws that may help specifically in this situation though I am not an attorney.

        I would suggest your mother consider sending them a certified letter stating that she is not the responsible party and asking them to contact you directly. Since she is effectively the one who is being erroneously billed, she may also want to talk with a consumer protection attorney or, if need be, seek advice from Legal Aid.

  • C hughes

    Hi, I check my credit about every 6 months, today I found that there was a negative report on my credit. When I started to investigate I found out my minor daughter had incurred a dental bill that I wasn’t aware of. My question is can a collection agency legally put negative information on my credit if they have not notified me in any way? I have no problem paying my kids bills but I didn’t know anything about this debt prior to receiving a credit report which effected my credit score.

  • Dan

    I have a 21 year old son still on our health insurance who has been living almost entirely on his own in Florida for about 2 years now. We live in Illinois. He recently had some major health issues and had a lengthy stay in a Florida Hospital. E.O.B.’s are starting to flow in and are already North of $40,000. My wife is panicking that she thinks the Dr’s / hospital will be coming after us for these debts. Theres no way on God’s green earth he’ll (our son) be able to pay any of this.

    We’re not liable for these debts are we? He’s even been in Florida long enough to legally establish residency I believe.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If these services were rendered while he was 21 then it’s quite unlikely they can try to collect from you. I would suggest he consults with a a bankruptcy attorney. If he does, the bankruptcy attorney should be able to explain whether they can try to collect from you as well.

  • Rylee Haley

    When I was 16, I had to go to a psychiatrist to receive medication for several issues. This doctor put me on so much medication that I was extremely physically and mentally ill and could barely function (I’m not sure if this is relevant, but I just want to include everything). I eventually went and told him I refused to take the medication anymore, then I never went back. I received bills from his office in my name as a minor when I was either 16 or 17, but I never paid them because it just didn’t make sense to me and I ended up completely forgetting about them. I’m not sure if my mom paid them or not, but that’s basically beside the point. It’s been almost two years since my last visit, and today I received a letter from a debt collection agency stating that I owe $75. This is in the state of Oklahoma and I am now 18 years old.

    What would you recommend that I do?

    • Credit Experts

      Rylee —
      First, check your credit reports to see whether the collection is on them. (Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports.) Then, respond to the collector in writing. Let the collector know that you were a minor when the bills were incurred and are not responsible for them, and enclose a copy of your birth certificate. You can ask them not to contact you again (or not to contact you by phone if you’d like). Federal law requires that they honor your request.
      If you find that the bills or collections ARE listed on your credit report, dispute them (also explaining that you were a minor and sending documentation). Here’s how: A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes.
      Finally, make monitoring your credit a habit . . . so that you can spot mistakes or fraud before they do real harm. Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.
      Good luck to you.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Just because the insurance is in your name that doesn’t necessarily mean you are responsible for this debt. Generally, it is my understanding that stepparents are not financially responsible for their stepchildren’s debts.

    The collector is no doubt hoping that you will pay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can force you to do so. I would recommend you do three things:

    1. You can send a certified letter to the collection agency stating that you do not believe you owe this debt because it was incurred by your step child and that you are not legally responsible. (Keep a copy for your records.)

    2. Review your credit reports to make sure that the collection agency has not reported this under your name. Here’s now to get free annual credit reports.

    3. Contact your state attorney general’s office or a consumer law attorney in your area to clarify your responsibility for this debt.

  • Fed Up

    I tried to fight a medical bill that went to collections due to the fact that she was 17 and didn’t have the authority to agree to the treatment. They said I gave a verbal agreement to the treatment? I don’t recall giving one but they wrote down 2 names from there office that I did. Any suggestions on what I can do to get this off my credit?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      In some states minors can be held responsible for the bills associated with necessary medical expenses. Unfortunately, though we don’t have a list of those states so you’ll need to talk with a consumer law attorney or your state attorney general. If this is a recent debt and you can be held responsible, then the another concern is whether you are able to pay this or work out a settlement on the debt.

  • Susan Lee

    My ex and I does not have anything written our divorce about health insurance coverage. We both agree to have it under my work but he’ll help pay me monthly he is 3 months behind. Our son had gone to the ER for an incident that occurred at my house while he was over and the ex is refusing to help me pay for our kids medical bills while he is not also helping me pay for our kids health insurance coverage???

    Even if we have joint custody shouldn’t he be obligated to help pay????? Susan

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Unfortunately without any legal agreement in place it’s hard to say what your ex should or shouldn’t be paying. But in the meantime, you are each likely legally responsible to the providers for your minor child’s essential medical care (and in many cases that is true even if there is some kind of agreement covering who is supposed to be paid what). I recommend you speak with a family law attorney about trying to get financial help from your ex.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    As we mention in the article, it’s possible you could be held responsible for your minor son’s essential medical care even though you didn’t authorize it. However, it depends on state law and the facts and circumstances. Fortunately since you are in a Texas you have a great resource available to you–the Texas Consumer Complaint Center. I’d suggest you contact them for advice.

  • Taylor

    I have hospital bills on my credit report from the summer after my freshman year of college. I was 19 at the time but did not have a job and was under my moms health insurance. She says i should call and dispute it and have them move it into her name. Will they be willing to do that??

    • Credit Experts

      We are sending you an email

  • towmom92

    My daughter received care at age 18 in a state where she couldn’t consent to treatment until 19. I signed as her mother to allow the procedure AND to be financially responsible. Now she’s getting dunned by a collection agency. I will gladly make the payments but I want them to remove her name from the collection account and put mine in its place. She has no job, and is in college–and I don’t want her future credit messed up by this account in her name. Do I have any recourse here? The agency refuses to put my name on the account.

    • Credit Experts

      We sent you an email.

      • towmom92

        I never received the email. Any chance you can send it again? I’m still fighting with the collection agency and original billing hospital to clear this up.

        • Credit Experts

          Re-sent. You may want to check to be sure it wasn’t caught with spam filter.

  • Anne

    I am a step parent who put my stepchildren on my health insurance since my husband’s new insurance would take 90 days to activate. My step children’s mother took them to a dermatologist and signed the HIPPA form and signed consent to treat and accepted all financial responsibility. She also did not notify my husband per their divorce decree, so she is responsible for 100% of the cost.

    I received a collection notice the other day for almost $1,000 stating that I am the guarantor of the account because that is how “their system” sets up the billing. They admitted thatI did not sign any paperwork but they had to add me to the account because that is how their EHR program is designed.

    Since their mother is refusing to pay, they sent the collection notice in with both of our names as responsible.

    I spoke with the office and informed them that I have no financial or legal responsibility to the children and cannot sign authorization for any form of treatment. I also did not give permission to treat or accept any financial responsibility. The office indicated that billing statements were sent in my name but to the mother’s address. They were finally given my home address by the mother and told to send the bill there. I live in Missouri. Is this even legal?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It doesn’t sound like it though I am not an attorney so I can’t provide legal advice. If I were in your shoes, I would send send a written dispute to the collection agency via certified mail and keep a copy for my records, indicating that I am not responsible for the debt. I’d also check my credit reports to make sure it’s not on there.

      If you continue to have problems you may need to get a consumer protection attorney or the CFPB involved.

  • Maite

    My son received some carr at thr age of 18. He is a depended on my husband insurance. But he got reported to collectiom agency and its affecting his credit history. He is a full time student with scholatship. He is not even working. What can we do to help in. Does this debt can be pass to myname due thay he still a depended on our insurance?

    • Credit Experts

      Maite —
      No, it would be your son’s debt even if the insurance is your husband’s. If your son gives consent (and you may need to get that in writing), you can talk to the collection agency on his behalf. Options include paying the collection, or a portion of it, and asking the collector to remove it from your son’s credit report. (Not paying carries the risk that your son could be sued, and a judgment on his credit report will look even worse than a collection.)

  • Jessica

    Hello, I would like to know if I am legally responsible for a debt that was incurred by my daughters father when he failed to successfully fufill a braces contract. I was aware she was getting braces but her dad was the one who entered into the contract with the orthodontist. The debt appears on my credit report and her dad’s. I did take my daughter to the dentist as well for her regular visits before the braces but I never signed the braces contract. Now we are trying to buy a home and this debt hurts both of us. We are not legally married. Can I request a copy of the original contract to use as a form of proof for dispute?

    • Credit Experts

      You may be. Parents, married or not, are generally expected to take care of their children’s health needs. You could consult a lawyer, but if you can pay, it might be smarter to contact the orthodontists’s office to see if they would remove the item in exchange for payment. Disputing an item could actually have the effect of making it harder for you to buy. Here’s more about that:
      How a Credit Report Dispute Could Stop You From Buying a Home

  • Dorothy

    I recieved medical care in the state of Alaska while a minor. My grandmother signed to be responsible for the bill. It has now been about 9 years later and they are hitting her with a $7000 medical bill, how can I transfer this bill to my name?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      A nine year old debt is probably outside the statute of limitations. And it shouldn’t appear on her credit reports unless there is already a court judgment. Before either of you do anything, please research your rights. It may be too old to collect.

  • Roger Driver

    My 24 year old son went to the dentist and put me down as the guarantor with out my knowledge. I know I’m still responsible for his health care insurance but who is responsible for paying the bill.

    • Credit Experts

      He should be. Parents are not responsible or co-pays or co-insurance (unless otherwise agreed) because their adult children remain on their policies. However, as you know, you should not have been listed as the guarantor.

  • Cleo

    Hi, a 17 year old freshman student at a college went to a party, where he was given a drink. He’s not a drinker, maybe tried a small amount of wine a couple times prior to that, that’s it. He felt fine, but after getting back to dorm he threw up, and somebody called 911 (apparently, a freshman girl who got scared). He was already fine by the time when emc arrived, but probably pale. EMC didn’t contact his parents, didn’t ask if he wanted to keep it a secret from his parents. Instead, they told him he had to go with them to a hospital to be checked out for alcohol poisoning. He is used to listen to the adults, as well as he was scared, so he went with them. They told him he needed an IV and did it. After that they let him go, so he walked back to the dorm (with someone accompanying him since it was during a night). He called his parents the following day and told them what happened, as he never intended to hide anything, not to mention he didn’t think he needed to go to the hospital and receive any treatments. He received 3 bills soon after, addressed to him: from EMT, from the hospital and from a doctor. The bills somehow show his year of birth to make him 21, even though his student ID clearly stated he was 17. The info was passed on to college, so it’s not a secret from anybody. Since he’s a student with a significant need based scholarship, he doesn’t have money to pay the bills, and his parents don’t have money either. Further, his parents are upset they were not contacted right away, as they would not approve taking him to a hospital. He’s covered by insurance but didn’t show it at the time, however, the insurance is high deductible, so the amount would be paid out or parents’ pockets. What is your opinion regarding the situation? Should he or his parents pay the bill? Should they send it to the insurance? Or should they do something else? Obviously, nobody wants anyone’s credit history ruined. Thank you.

    • Credit Experts

      Cleo —
      In this case, with the age question and more, we think you should contact a lawyer. We are not lawyers, and we think you need a legal opinion.

  • Frustrated Guardian

    I am the legal guardian of a minor who has incurred a lot of medical bills. Am I obligated to pay those bills if the collectors do not have my social security number which is linked to my credit report and/or I did not sign anything indicating that I was responsible to pay bill cost if insurance didn’t?

    • Credit Experts

      Cornell’s Legan Institute website suggests that a guardian would be responsible. However, we are not lawyers and we cannot give you legal advice. We recommend talking with a lawyer familiar with the particulars of your situation as well as relevant state laws.

  • Ron

    I am a high school teacher, who has a student that is a mother. She had the baby without the father taking any financial responsibility. Her father took all the financial responsibility and now that she is 18 she would like to have her father removed and her name put in place for the financial responsibility. Can she do this? Would her father and mother still be in danger of having their wages garnished? What is the law and what would you advise?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Hi, Ron,

      She may want to consult an attorney in this instance to learn what her legal options are.

      Thank you,


  • Gerri Detweiler

    As we mentioned in this article, in many states parents are liable for their children’s essential medical bills. If providers can’t collect from one, they will try to collect from the other. However, I can’t say for certain that’s the case in your state. Also it is also possible the older debts are outside the statute of limitations. You may want to do some research into that first. Please read: 7 Things You Need to Know About the Statutes of Limitation for Debt

  • Connie Kobelo

    Thank you so much!

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