Loan Co-Signor: How To Protect Yourself From The Risks

Category: Financial News

Many relationships, from close family members to great friends have been strained because of misunderstandings and fights arising from troubles of being a co-signor in a loan. Indeed, agreeing to be a loan co-signor involves a lot of financial, legal and personal risks.   What are these risks and their effects to the unwitting debt co-signor? How can one protect himself or herself from these risks?

When a friend or a relative wants to take out a loan, say a personal debt or a home mortgage loan, he or she may ask you to be a co-signor, especially if you have the right financial credibility that will improve someone’s chance of  getting approved for a loan. Many who have co-signed for a loan do so to help a less established friend or relative secure an urgently needed money.

What it means to be a debt co-signor

What should be clear to those who are being asked to co-sign a loan is that agreeing to such a role goes beyond signing on the dotted line and acting as a kind of guarantor that the person who is actually borrowing will not default on his or her payment responsibilities. Once you signed, it entails important responsibilities including accepting that in the future, you may actually shoulder the payment duties of the original debtor.

For many co-signers, signing a pledge of payment guarantee on behalf of another person’s loan was not a hundred percent free will. Being obliged to family, relatives or friends and simply finding it hard to say no and turn one’s back to a friend in need made them sign on the dotted line and lose some portion of their peace of mind, at least until the debt has been paid.

Being a co-signor is a risky decision since you do not have an interest on the loan, and instead, will have to put up with the payments to the lender if and when the debtor cannot make the payments. Agreeing to be a co-signor is something of a noble act, and should not be abused by the actual debtor.

This obligation is agreed upon, first, so that the friend or relative can actually be granted a loan, with the trust to this original debtor that he or she will not default on the payments, barring unforeseen circumstances. In short, this is an act of extending a helping hand first and foremost so the debtor will have the needed money, and not an act, in its primal motive, to agree to take over payment duties. Understanding this should discourage any debtor to take advantage or abuse the co-signor’s trust.

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If someone approaches you to be co-signor or a co-borrower for a loan, what should you do? Here are some guides to help you in this decision.

Understand the role of co-signor, surety or guarantee provider

A co-signer guarantees to pay for someone else’s debt if the borrower defaults on a loan obligation. His or her signature implies that the co-signor pledges their own assets or financial means when the actual borrower cannot fulfil payment duties. It provides the lender with protection from default by the original borrower. The co-signor affixes the signature after the borrower completes the loan application. In this way, a co-signor is like a surety or guarantee provider.

While the co-signor’s income, assets, liabilities, and credit history are also considered in determining credit-worthiness, he or she  does not have any interest and cannot get benefit from the property purchased or from the loan proceeds.

(This is different from a co-borrower role, whose name appears on the  loan application and on the property’s title in the case of a home loan, meaning the co-borrower has a title to the property, making him or her  obligated on the mortgage note. Given this, it can be emphasized that a co-borrower is an equal in the loan interest and responsibilities, while a co-signor pledges to be responsible to the lender in making up for default payments of the original borrower.)

Know the effects of being a co-signor to your finances and credit rating

When someone agrees to be a co-signor in a loan, he or she is risking his money, resources, credit rating and even the family’s future by putting them as guarantee for a financial package that he or she does not have a right to or an  interest in. But what happens when the original borrower defaults?

If for any reason, the original borrower is unable to fulfil payment obligations, here’s what the co-signor ends up with: pay loan requirements, including late charges, legal fees and other duties. You cannot complain that a collection party is trying to make you pay for someone else’s loan – you agreed to it.

An unwitting debt co-signor puts himself to a lot of  personal, financial and legal bounds and risks.

An unwitting debt co-signor puts himself to a lot of personal, financial and legal bounds and risks.

The default payment history and the total unpaid debt if that is the case will reflect on the co-signor’s credit rating. If that loan is reflected on your credit report, it will be considered and viewed as your own bad debt, and will be in your record for up to seven years.

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3. Learn how to protect yourself as a co-signor

If you are willing to co-sign a loan for someone, here’s what Wold Law Direct suggest you do before affixing your signature so that you also protect yourself.

  1. Seek the lender’s signed agreement that you will not be obliged to pay until the borrower actually defaults on the payment.
  2. Have an agreement that will limit your co-liability to only the unpaid principal and only the amount at the time of default, no more, no less.
  3. Once the loan has been approved, it is also smart that you exercise vigilance over the payment responsibility of your friend or relative. As you have given your trust and your signature, you can very well ask the lender to oblige you with some safety precautions. For instance, the borrower should  notify you for any late payment or if a late payment is looming.
  4. Consult with your lawyer before signing and when the debtor proves to be irresponsible. State laws on a co-signor’s liability may vary.
  5. While there are ways that you can protect your credit history, these entail time, money and a lot of patience. You can negotiate for the original borrower to pay you directly under a separate, legal terms if you want to pay the other person’s loan just so your credit rating will be protected.
  6. For requests of work colleagues whom you really do not know very well and those not very close to you but are offering some “incentives” like a part of the loan proceed on personal arrangement, decline the responsibility. This will prove the better for you, your money and your family’s future.

While it is a noble act to help someone in need especially if they are family or friends, even financial experts agree that one should think carefully before agreeing to become a co-signor of a loan.

Got your own thoughts and ideas about being a loan co-signor that all of us can learn from? Share it with us!

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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