Some retailers require ID for credit card purchases

Richard Alderman

Q. I have not had this arise, but I am still curious. Can a store demand to see a photo ID when I pay with a credit card? Some places ask, and many do not.

A. Until recently, the only law that controlled whether a store could ask for a photo ID from a customer was the contract between the credit card issuer and the merchant. For most credit cards, this contract prohibits asking for an ID if the card is signed. If the card is unsigned, the merchant has the right to demand to see a photo ID. Here is what each credit company contract says:

• Visa and Mastercard: Merchants cannot require ID if the credit card is signed. However, if the credit card is not signed, the merchant can ask you to show a government-issued ID and sign your credit card on the spot.

• American Express: Merchants should verify that the customer is the actual cardholder, but there are no specific requirements for (or against) requesting to see an ID.

• Discover: Merchants can request an ID if they believe the credit card isn’t valid. For unsigned credit cards, the merchant can request two forms of identification, one of which must be a government-issued photo ID.

Recently, however, Texas enacted a law that allows merchants to ask for photo identification for credit and debit card purchases — and turn down transactions if a buyer won’t show it. The legal issue now is whether this law or the contract between the store and the credit card issuer controls. In my opinion, because the law says a merchant “may” decline a transaction without a photo ID, the contract between the merchant and the credit card company controls. We will all have to wait for the lawsuit that I know will come after the law takes effect in 2018 to see if I am right.

Q. I am going to cash out an IRA to pay some bills and repair my home. There will be about $4,000 left after I pay my bills. If I put the money left in the bank, can my creditors seize it?

A. As you apparently know, in Texas an IRA is “exempt” property. This means that even if you are sued, your creditors may not seize your IRA. Once you cash in the IRA, however, the funds generally lose their exempt status and may be subject to your creditors. This means that if you put the $4,000 in a bank account, it could be subject to a writ of garnishment.

Q. I have a power of attorney for my 87-year-old mother. The nursing home where she is staying has started sending her bills to me. Am I responsible for her debts because of the power of attorney?

A. This is a good question and a legitimate concern. If they are simply sending you bills as her agent bills to pay on her behalf, you should not be concerned. You have no individual liability because you are named as her agent in the power of attorney.

On the other hand, if they are sending bills to you for her obligations, you need to make it clear that you are not a responsible party. The power of attorney gives you the right to sign documents and act on behalf of your mother. It does not impose any liability upon you for her debts. For you to be responsible to the nursing home, you must have agreed to pay. Unless you have signed something or otherwise agreed to pay her bills, you have no liability. I suggest you send them an email and get a written response regarding who they believe is responsible for her bills.

Q. My neighbor is building a house. The contractor backed into my fence and knocked down a large section. Who is liable for the damage, the neighbor or the builder?

A. The fact that your neighbor is building the house does not make the neighbor responsible for acts of the builder. Your neighbor did not engage in any wrongful conduct, and Texas law does not make an owner liable for acts of contractors.

On the other hand, the builder owes you an obligation to not damage your property. By backing into your fence, the builder was negligent and should be responsible for the cost. I suggest you talk with the builder and ask for compensation or a new fence. If he refuses, this sounds like a good case for justice court.

Q. Will my son be responsible for my outstanding balance of my student loan in the event of my death?

A. As you may know, government backed student loans are the most “collectable” type of debt. There is no limitation period, wages may be garnished, and they generally are not discharged in bankruptcy. The debt, however, does not pass to your heirs. After your death, your estate will be responsible for the debt. If there is not enough money in your estate, the debt will remain unpaid.

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Recently, the Center for Consumer Law at the University of Houston Law Center presented a special session of the People’s Law School devoted to legal issues arising from Hurricane Harvey. The three most popular classes dealt with insurance issues, FEMA, and landlord tenant/ consumer issues. All three sessions were recorded and are now available at www.law.uh.edu/peopleslaw. If after watching the videos you have any questions, you may contact the Center for Consumer Law at www.TexasCCC.com, or (713) 743-2168l.

Do you want to learn more about your legal rights? Visit my website, www.peopleslawyer.net.

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