What to Know When You Turn 18

The Ways the Law Now Affects You

African female teenager blowing out the candles on her 18th birthday cake, surrounded by her family
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Eighteen is a milestone birthday to celebrate. It's when you enter official adulthood for the first time, gaining great privileges along with serious legal implications.

At 18 years old, you can vote, buy a house, or even get married without restriction in most states. On the other hand, you can also go to jail, get sued, gamble away your tuition through online poker, or make terrible stock market investments. It goes without saying that, once you turn 18, you are legally considered an adult in nearly every state in the union.

It's good to review the basic age requirements when you're about to turn 18 so that you know what you can and can't get away with. For example, an 18-year-old cannot rent a car, but he or she can buy one. However, a parent may need to co-sign on the loan if he or she doesn't have a solid work or credit history yet, which is likely.

An 18-year-old can also buy and sell real estate and stock, inherit property, enter into binding contracts, or unfortunately, get sued.

New Consequences

Youthful legal misadventures that once might have been met with parental wrath and a stern lecture from the local police can land an 18-year-old in jail. Whether it's throwing toilet paper up in a neighbor's trees or shoplifting even inexpensive items, these acts may have previously landed you with a slap on the wrist, but as soon as you become an official adult, the whole game changes. Even some minor drug possession charges that may have been overlooked at 17 can lead to jail time at 18.

It's also especially important for 18-year-olds to understand legal consequences if they are still in high school or are surrounded by younger friends.

Jury Duty and Taxes

In addition to voting, 18-year-olds are eligible for jury duty and are responsible for paying taxes on time.

Young men must also register with the National Selective Service. Failure to register could cost teens a $250,000 fine and/or five years in jail, plus the loss of student loans and any federal or state employment. Those that need to register can pick up a form at the post office or register online.

Driving Without Restriction

Some states have graduated driving laws that restrict the hours and terms under which new and young drivers can get behind the wheel. At 18, most of these driving restrictions are lifted. When driving, adults can chat on a hands-free cell phone, drive in the middle of the night, and carry passengers.

Sexual Misconduct

Unfortunately, statutory rape laws change dramatically from state to state. What is permissible in some places means jail time in others. Therefore, enforcement is unpredictable and the age of consent varies considerably from state to state. In one case, a 17-year-old was sentenced to 10 years in state prison for having oral sex with a 15-year-old. This is particularly important for 18-year-olds to understand, as they may be dating someone younger than them, which is common in high school.