how is it possible that a user with only one reputation can chat in chat room where the minimum reputation required is 20

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Everyone can read the chat. Since you can read it even if you're not logged in, it would be incredibly silly to forbid it if you were logged in but low rep.

The 20 rep threshold is for actually chatting, i.e. writing messages.

However, chat room owners should be able to give users explicit permission to talk regardless of reputation or other settings.

chat room settings

Even though the description on this feature says exactly that, it does nothing unless you're a moderator on a private room.

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    I actually tried today to invite a new 1 rep user to chat by creating a room and giving them explicit read+write access - but they were sill unable to participate... – Lix Mar 25 '12 at 19:19
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    @Lix - Now that sounds like a bug worth reporting. – Oded Mar 25 '12 at 19:26
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    Only mods can bypass the 20-rep limit that way – Michael Mrozek Mar 25 '12 at 19:33
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    @ode - I guess a feature request then - but one perhaps not worth implementing... – Lix Mar 25 '12 at 19:37
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    @MichaelMrozek Hmm, then I guess the description in the chat room settings should be fixed. – R. Martinho Fernandes Mar 25 '12 at 19:41
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    Pity, I seem to remember the time chat has been the most useful for me was with brand-new people. Oh well. – sarnold Mar 25 '12 at 23:41
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    I agree with @sarnold. People with less than 20 reputation are precisely the people who need chat: I just had a moderator disable further comments on an answer, telling the participants to move it to chat. But the person who needed the lengthy help had insufficient reputation to do so. Catch-22. So even though there were users willing to help the noob, the moderators prevented them from doing so. It's nuts. – Robert Ryan Jul 24 '12 at 20:34

Anyone and everyone can read chat.

As for actually chatting (e.g. sending messages), it takes about an hour for reputation to sync, if thats what you're asking.

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