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Is it okay for a bank to turn away minors solely based on age even if they have a parent/guardian to sign/co-sign on the minor's behalf? Would it be considered age discrimination?

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  • I had my own checking account in the 1970s in California when I was around 16, and I looked like I was 12 years old. I got some funny looks occasionally when writing a check at K-Mart, but no problems. The bank allowed me to open an account, likely since my dad had a business account with the bank, but the account was entirely in my name. The bank staff did check with a supervisor when opening it. – Mark Stewart Sep 2 '20 at 16:14
  • @MarkStewart in the 70s, some of the laws were different, but even then a bank account for 16 yo was somewhat a necessity – Trish Sep 3 '20 at 8:52
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It is age discrimination, and it is legal. There is a federal prohibition against discriminating in employment provided that you are at least 40 years old. There are innumerable laws that require age discrimination w.r.t. being under 18, such as the lack of a right to vote. Contracts with minors, such as are involved with opening a bank account, are generally invalid with the exception of "necessities", education and insurance in Massachusetts. No law compels a bank to "accept" any person (to open a saving or checking account – even more so with accepting a loan application). A bank account would be a "public accommodation", which is not subject to a "no age discrimination" requirement at the federal or Massachusetts level.

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    The word "discrimination" implies unjust or prejudice, but it doesn't have to. There is nothing unjust about "discrimination" in certain situation, especially due to age, because they are generally deemed to not have the capacity to deal with the situation (driving, drinking, sexual consent with an adult, etc..) – Nelson Sep 1 '20 at 7:28
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    @Nelson : and even discrimination on race, gender, and religion, while in many cases illegal, can have cases where it's perfectly legal, if it's a bona fide occupational qualification. For example, if would be foolish to expect a non-catholic to become a priest in a catholic church, and if there is a movie about Napoleon, it is allowed to hire actors based on how closely they resemble Napoleon. – vsz Sep 1 '20 at 8:21
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    @Nelson, the word "discrimination" does not imply anything, it just means that people are treated differently. Only certain kinds of discrimination are illegal, usually the kinds involving some protected trait of a person. – I'm with Monica Sep 1 '20 at 12:18
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    @I'mwithMonica I'm going by dictionary definitions, and almost all of them defines it as "unjust" or "unfair" as the first meaning, and only "distinction, differentiation" as the second meaning. – Nelson Sep 1 '20 at 12:23
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    So, oddly the other answer (while being problematic in other ways) does have a link to a specific law, which has some language that is not clear to me but possibly could be read as saying that (specific banks/etc.) must be available to under-18. "he bank must make one of the following savings accounts available for choice by the 18-65 consumer, which is then eligible to have the protections of the 18-65 law applied to that account". – user3067860 Sep 1 '20 at 13:43
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To make a bank account you need to sign a contract. To sign a valid contract, a person needs to have the legal capacity to sign contracts. Minors are not able to sign most contracts. This is not illegal age discrimination under federal laws, it is a law for the protection of minors!

Unless the minor is emancipated or the bank account is a necessity, the contract would be void ab initio and neither could the minor demand it's enforcement nor could the bank demand its payments. But if the bank account is a necessity (it likely is), then a 16-year-old is allowed to sign and could open a bank account on its own.

There is special law for accounts of minors:

Massachusetts state law requires state-chartered banks to provide no cost checking and savings accounts to anyone 18 years old or younger or anyone 65 years old and older. Some federally chartered banks also have special accounts that may offer reduced or limited fees.

And the government even has more helpful information about those:

Credit unions and federally-chartered banks are not required to offer such accounts.

Those under 18 may be required to have a co-signer in order to open an account. Married couples cannot be denied opening an account as long as one spouse meets the age requirements.

A full listing of all Massachusetts state chartered savings banks, co-operatives banks and trust companies subject to the 18-65 law are available at the Division of Banks website.

So, the Massachusetts law does dictate that some banks have to provide a no-cost savings/checking account to minors. However, the bank might require someone to co-sign for ages 16-18, and has to do so for minors under 16, in which case the guardian would need to open the account in the name of the child.

Generally, I suggest to take the minor and their guardian and meet at one of the banks that offer such an account and discuss with a bank employee the account.

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    The question includes "even if they have a parent/guardian co-sign", so the special law for accounts for minors seems to be the most relevant. However, I wasn't really able to parse out if (qualifying banks) are required to give every minor who asks (and has a cosigner, etc.) an account, OR it's only if they give them an account, then they're required to have an option where you can get the special 18-65 type account. – user3067860 Sep 1 '20 at 13:46
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    @user3067860 I read it the governement's commentary on the law as, that a bank on the list has to offer a cost free 18-64 account, but might require a co-signer (guardian) under 16, and still could ask for one for the 16-18 group. Any above 18 can sign without and in full, but is not needed to be offered the cost free one. – Trish Sep 1 '20 at 14:01
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    Still not clear to me, for example (credit card company) "offers" (super extra double platinum for big spenders credit card)--but if I, personally, apply for it then they will turn me down. So it's not clear if they're still able to turn down specific individuals (we won't give you any account), while still "offering" this account in general and making it available to the people who qualify that they do give an account to. – user3067860 Sep 1 '20 at 14:09
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    @user3067860 they offer it, under conditions you don't meet. the 18-64 account is special as the conditions are written down by the state and it has to be offered and provided, – Trish Sep 1 '20 at 14:10

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