It is not unusual to see a 16-year-old walking around a school, the neighborhood or anywhere else in public talking or texting on a cell phone. However, the odds are that the contract is not under the youngster's name. Under the laws in the United States, a 16-year-old cannot sign a cell phone contract -- but this doesn't mean the teen can't have access to a phone. Minors looking to obtain a cell phone have a number of options.
A minor does not have the right to sign a legally binding contract of any kind, including a cell phone contract. If a 16-year-old wanted to own and operate a cell phone, she would need someone over 18 to sign the contract associated with it for her. That person would then be legally responsible for any debt the 16-year-old acquired. If the adult wanted to terminate the cell phone contract, he would have the right to do so whether the minor agreed or not. However, he would have to pay the early termination fees if the cell phone service was still under contract.
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Switching The Contract
As soon as a minor reaches the age of majority -- 18 -- the cell phone contract taken out by his legal guardian or the adult who signed it for him can be transferred into his name. This can be accomplished by contacting the service provider and asking the company to place the contract under the now-18-year-old's name. Most contracts last for at least two years. If the minor is 16 when he obtains the phone, the contract will be completed -- or nearing completion -- by the time he turns 18. At this point, the minor can either continue with the service plan under his own name or have it terminated without penalties.
Pay As You Go
If you are 16, you can still obtain a cell phone with no help from an adult by purchasing a pay-as-you-go phone. These cell phones do not require a credit card or a contract, allowing the minor to purchase one on her own. The minor must add money to her cell phone account to earn minutes -- or talk time -- and is required to add more minutes when she runs out in order to keep using the phone. Unlike a contracted cell phone, the minor can stop using the pay-as-you-go phone at any time without penalty. Pay-as-you-go cell phones are ideal for parents who want their children to have a phone but do not want the contract under their name.
The Minor Contract
If a 16-year-old somehow does sign a cell phone contract with a provider, the penalties attached vary depending on state. While the contract would become legally void, the minor would face charges of misrepresentation. For example, if he used a fake ID and name to sign the contract, he would face the penalties attached for doing so. If you are 16 and want to enter into a cell phone contract to get a specific phone, ask your parents to sign the contract for you. If they refuse, wait until you turn 18 or look into getting a prepaid phone instead.