Know the Law Before the Law Knows You

Money Matters - Contracts

What is a contract?

A contract is an agreement between two or more people or a business which creates an obligation to do or not to do something. In order for a promise to be legally enforceable, there must be an offer, an acceptance, consideration, and mutual agreement.

Can I make a contract before turning 18?

Yes, you can contract as a minor but it might be very difficult to find someone willing to do so. Because as a minor (under 18) you have the ability to terminate a contract. Once you reach 18, you can reaffirm a contract made as a minor either expressly or by failure to disaffirm it. Adults cannot usually enforce contracts against minors. That is why your parents or some adults probably had to co-sign any contracts you made as a minor. You may be liable for the fair market value of necessary items purchased as a minor. In New Mexico, if married and under the age of 18, you are considered an adult for the purpose of a contract.

What are some likely contracts I may soon be part of?
  • Apartment rental
  • Student loan
  • Car loan
  • Cell phone service
  • Insurance
  • Marriage
  • Medical care
  • Credit card

Do all contracts have to be in writing?

No. Many contracts, such as employment, are rarely in writing. However, some contracts must be in writing to be enforceable:

  • Any contract to buy or sell land or a house.
  • Any agreement that cannot be fully performed within one year.
  • Any purchase of an item costing more than $500.

Having a contract in writing helps to avoid any confusion over what the parties had agreed upon.

What are some of the advantages of written contracts?
  • Protection against dishonesty – against lies by the other person as to what you had agreed.
  • Protection against poor memories – after a time people will usually have different recollections of their agreement even if there is no dishonesty.
What are some of the disadvantages of written contracts?

Consumers are often forced to sign printed form contracts that are written in favor of the seller; for example, attempting to limit warranties and saying that the consumer must pay the business’s legal fees if there is a lawsuit to enforce the contract. Some words contained in written contracts have technical legal meanings which are unknown to most people.

What are some general rules to follow when I am asked to sign a contract?
  • Read the entire contract before signing it.
  • Ask questions about anything in the contract you do not understand.
  • Cross out parts of the contract that conflict with your agreement. If you do this, initial the cross-outs and have the other party do so as well.
  • Write in parts of your agreement that are not in the printed contract. The other party should initial the additions.
  • Do not sign a contract if it contains any blank spaces; either fill them in or cross them out if they do not apply.
  • Do not be intimidated by sales people.
  • Do not be taken in by a friendly salesperson.
  • Do not think that a printed form contract is okay.
  • Never sign anything unless you understand why you are being asked to sign and what you are agreeing to do.
  • Be sure that you get a complete and accurate signed copy of the contract.

What can happen if I don’t honor a contract or miss payments or other obligations?

You can be sued. You, as a “defendant,” can be required to appear in court. The judge or jury decides what the facts are and the judge/jury decides who wins. If you do not put up a defense, you will lose the case by default. If you lose, a “judgment” will exist against you. Interest is added to the amount of the judgment until it is paid. Your wages may be taken to pay the judgment by a procedure called “garnishment” or your property may be taken and sold to pay off the judgment by a procedure called “attachment.” If you don’t pay a car loan, the car can be repossessed and sold.

What can I do if I owe more money than I can pay?

Some options include working out agreements to pay your debts back over a period of time, taking out a new loan to pay back existing debts, and bankruptcy, which is a formal court proceeding and quite complicated. Failure to pay debts on time and/or filing a bankruptcy can have a bad effect on your credit rating, making it harder for you to obtain a loan or credit in the future. Bankruptcy can also make you ineligible to rent an apartment at certain complexes or make you ineligible for some jobs.

This is GENERAL and BASIC information only. Laws are constantly changing. Exceptions and special circumstances exist. You should seek legal advice from an attorney to your choice who can take into account all the factors relevant to your particular situation.