Co-signing any loan can be disastrous to your credit, finances, and future. But if you're going to do it anyway, at least protect yourself.
A few years ago, a friend told me he didn’t have the credit to get a car loan. Would I co-sign for him? I almost did it, but my father stopped me with some wise advice: “Don’t gamble with your credit score for someone else’s benefit.”
So I didn’t co-sign, but my friend found someone else to do it. Nine months later, he stopped making payments, the lender repossessed the car, the co-signer’s credit was ruined, and I had narrowly escaped financial disaster.
That’s my story, but co-signing a car, or any loan, is rarely a good idea for anyone. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains why in the video below. Check it out, then read on for more reasons on why you shouldn’t co-sign – and some tips when you do it anyway…
Here’s a recap of why you should be wary of co-signing. And keep in mind that we’re talking car loans in this post, but the advice applies to any loan…
1. You’re responsible for the loan
By co-signing, you agree to take over the loan if the primary borrower doesn’t pay. In 2011, 0.51 percent of all auto loans were delinquent – meaning they were at least 60 days late, according to Bankrate. If you had co-signed one of those loans, the lenders would be looking to you for money.
And that could spell financial disaster. Experian’s State of the Automotive Finance Market report shows that in the fourth quarter of 2011, Americans borrowed an average of $26,419 for new cars and $17,404 for used cars. I know I don’t have $26,000 lying around to cover someone else’s loan – or extra money to make their payments.
2. You’re risking your credit rating
Your credit rating will tank if your friend or family member’s car is repossessed or they make late payments. Repossession appears on your credit report for seven years, starting from the first missed payment, Experian explains. If the lender sends the account to collections – and they will – the collection will also show on your credit report for seven years.
3. You’re risking your borrowing power
Here’s how my scenario would have played out if I had agreed to co-sign:
At the time, I had a car and a good credit rating. I co-sign my friend’s car loan. Nine months later, he defaults on the payments and the car is repossessed. A year later, I need a new car, so I apply for a loan. The lender sees a repossession and a collection on my credit report. At this point, I imagine the lender doubling over in laughter as he turns me down.
You’ll have a hard time qualifying for any loan with a black mark that serious on your credit history. And if you do qualify, you won’t get the best (or even good) rates. For example, in the fourth quarter of 2011, the average interest rate on an auto loan was 4.54 percent for a prime borrower, according to Experian. Nonprime borrowers qualified for 6.34 percent on average, and subprime borrowers got 9.55 percent on average.
Not convinced? OK, if you’re going to co-sign anyway, at least heed this advice…
1. Put your name on the title
Stacy said it best…
“If you’re co-signing a car loan, make sure your name is on the title as co-owner. You owe, you own.”
That will be important if you can take possession of the car should the primary borrower stops making payments. Then you can drive the car – or, providing they agree to sign over the title, sell it to help pay off the remaining balance.
2. Ask for a key
You’re an owner of the car, so you should also have a key to it. Having a key will make it easier should you ever need to take possession of the car.
3. Monitor the payments
If you’re willing to co-sign a loan, then you need to be willing to babysit that loan. That means making sure the payments get paid on time every month: ask for proof. It’ll be a hassle, but you’ll protect your credit rating – and your money.
4. Keep up with insurance
Don’t forget the insurance. If your friend totals the car and it’s uninsured, he probably won’t be able to cover the cost of repairs or replacement himself – and he may not feel like paying a loan for a car he can no longer use. Guess who that leaves on the hook? You might want to suggest your friend read 6 Steps to Pay Less for Car Insurance.
And if neither of you can really afford to be on the hook for an expensive car, check out 8 Tips for Buying a $5,000 Car.