Q: I am 16 years old and run a leading online teen magazine. I recently started receiving advertising payments, but when I took the checks to my bank, they refused them because they were made payable to my company and I was trying to put them into a personal account. They wouldn't let me open a business checking account because I'm under 18--not even if my parents co-sign.
The only way to do it is to have my parents open the account, but then it affects their taxes and such--and having advertisers make payments to me personally looks unprofessional. So at the moment I hold two checks I can't cash. Is there some way around this?
A: You're in a tough spot--opening a business checking account is one of the best ways to tell the world you're a serious entrepreneur, and that's particularly important when you're a teenager. As you know, many people have a tough time accepting the fact that teens can and do start and run successful businesses, often even more successful than people twice or three times your age. With the advantages of youth on your side--a fresh perspective on business ideas, possibly low overhead (if you're living at home rent-free), and the ability to make mistakes early in the game and have plenty of time to correct them--starting a business is a very attractive option for young people who would rather answer to themselves than earn minimum wage.
So what can you do when a bank--or anyone in a position to hold your age over your head as you attempt to get your business off the ground--refuses to let you into their circle of friends? In this case, it sounds as though you are dealing with a bank that doesn't want to deal with you. That's very unfair, but it is their prerogative.
You should not let that discourage you, however. As with any person or institution that won't give you the time of day, you just need to take your business elsewhere. Start shopping around for a bank that will work with you to meet your needs, even if it means having your parents co-sign to open the account. There's bound to be a bank that will open its doors wide for you. Then, if you end up finding a teen-friendly bank, be sure to write a carefully worded letter to the bank that said no, letting them know that not only did you find a different bank to do business with, but you are recommending it to all your friends, who also want checking accounts of their own (business checking or otherwise).
If enough teens spoke up, perhaps banks would start changing their policies to make them more friendly to young entrepreneurs. And perhaps that would also encourage more banks to lend start-up capital to teens. Anyone who thinks that's a crazy idea might want to consider that change never happens unless people voice their discontent. Ten or 20 years ago, I bet not many people thought any teenager could successfully start a business. But teens have been doing it for decades--think Fred Deluca (founder of Subway), Tom Monaghan (Domino's Pizza) and Martha Stewart, to name a few.
If you really want to be a successful entrepreneur, you're going to have to get used to being rejected and finding ways to overcome. If it's worth fighting for, you'll make it happen.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.