On paper, getting a co-signer on a loan seems like a no-brainer: You may benefit from better rates, and both you and your co-signer could see a credit boost if you make on-time payments. However, there are downsides that you and your potential co-signer should understand before you sign on the dotted line.
What is a co-signer?
A co-signer is someone who applies for a loan with another person and legally agrees to pay off their debt if the primary borrower isn’t able to make the payments. A co-signer could be a friend, family member or anyone close to you who has a strong credit score and a consistent income.
Co-signers are common in cases when the borrower is struggling to get approved for a loan based on their credit score, income or existing debt. Lenders perceive applicants with poor financial history as high risk — there’s a chance they won’t be able to repay the loan, which means that the lending company will lose money. A co-signer with good credit improves the primary borrower’s overall creditworthiness, meaning lenders are more likely to approve the loan or offer better rates.
Answer a few questions to see which personal loans you pre-qualify for. The process is quick and easy, and it will not impact your credit score.
How do you use a co-signer for a loan?
If you’re in a situation where you might need a co-signer, you’ll first want to find the right co-signer. In theory, anyone can be a co-signer for a loan. In practice, however, it’s likely going to be a family member or a close friend.
To use a co-signer, you’ll tell the lender that you plan on having someone else co-sign the loan. The lender will then ask for the co-signer’s financial information and details and adjust the terms of the loan accordingly. The co-signer will also have to be present at the closing of the loan in order to officially sign alongside the primary applicant.
When does co-signing make sense?
Co-signing a loan can be risky, but it can also be beneficial if done correctly. It’s particularly common for young adults to use co-signers, since they often have unpredictable income, a low credit score and little to no credit history. Because of this, it can be difficult or impossible for them to get a loan without a co-signer. As such, parents often co-sign their children’s student loans when they’re in college.
Co-signing also makes sense for someone trying to get back on their feet. Someone who previously lost their job but needs a car to travel to interviews might use a co-signer to take out a personal loan. Presumably, that person will eventually have a job that allows them to comfortably afford their monthly payments.
In any situation, co-signers are there in the event of an emergency. They’re not expected to pay a cent when they sign their name on the loan application, but they are willing and able to use their own money to pay down the loan if the debtor is unable to.
The risks of being a co-signer
If you’re thinking about co-signing a personal loan, there’s a lot on the line. “The reality is, if the lender felt the original debtor could pay back the loan on their own, they wouldn’t need a co-signer,” says Damon Duncan, a bankruptcy attorney in North Carolina. “Finance companies have decades of collective data and information that helps them determine the likelihood someone will pay back a loan on their own. If they aren’t willing to give the person a loan without a co-signer you probably shouldn’t be the one willing to co-sign.”
Here are six reasons why you should think twice before co-signing a loan.
1. You are liable for the full loan amount
Co-signing a loan makes you liable to pay for the entire balance should the guilty party fail to pay. And, unfortunately, most lenders are not interested in having you pay half of the loan. This means that you’ll have to work it out with the other party or get stuck paying off the entire balance.
“Think not only about the amount the loan is for but also the duration,” says Jared Weitz, CEO and founder of United Capital Source, a nationwide small-business lender. “Once you sign a loan, it’s not for a few months, it’s for the entire duration of the existence of the loan — sometimes this is years.”
2. Co-signing a loan comes with a high risk and a low reward
You might co-sign on a loan for a car you’re not driving or a mortgage for a house you don’t live in, but that doesn’t change your liability if the primary borrower fails to make payments. Your credit score benefits only slightly from the monthly payments. And since you qualified as a co-signer because of your good credit, you don’t necessarily need more credit lines.
3. You have to be organized enough to keep track of the payments
If you co-sign a loan, you’ll want to keep tabs on monthly payments, even if you trust the person you co-signed for. If you wait to get a call from a bill collector informing you of missed payments, your credit will already have been negatively impacted.
“Set up a calendar reminder or automatic update online to notify you of payment dates and the status of the loan,” says Weitz. “If needed, set up a monthly check-in with the borrower yourself to make sure there are no red flags approaching that may lead them to no longer be able to make payments.”
4. The lender will sue you first if payments are not made
If the primary applicant defaults on their personal loan, the lender will come after you first. After all, the primary applicant likely does not have stellar income or many assets. If they did, they wouldn’t have needed a co-signer in the first place.
In addition to the financial strain this places on you, this type of situation could also place a significant strain on your relationship with the person you have co-signed for. Constantly ensuring that the other party has made payments can take a toll on friendship, and, as the co-signer, your desire to not suffer any negative impacts could be construed as mistrust.
5. If the debt is settled, you could face tax consequences
If the lender doesn’t want to go through the trouble of suing you, it may agree to settle the balance owed. That will mean you could have tax liability for the difference. For example, if you owe $10,000 and settle for $4,000, you may have to report the other $6,000 as “debt forgiveness income” on your tax returns.
And settling on the account will leave a negative mark on your credit report. The account does not state “paid as agreed,” but rather “settled.” Your credit score suffers because of that new mark.
6. Co-signing could make approval of your own loan impossible
Before co-signing a loan, think ahead to future loans that you might need. Even though a loan you co-sign is not in your name, it shows up on your credit report, since it’s debt that you are legally obligated to pay. So when you go to apply for another loan in your own name, you might find yourself denied for an application because of how much credit you have in your name.
Alternatives to co-signing
If you’re unable to find a willing co-signer, or if you want to avoid the risks associated with co-signing, there are several alternatives that can help you get the money you need:
Build your credit: The main reason why applicants struggle to get approved for loans is because they have a poor credit score. Put your application on hold and work on getting your credit score to a place where lenders will be willing to give you a loan. You can build your credit by paying bills on time, paying your credit card balances in full or paying more than the minimum monthly payment.
Offer collateral: Some lenders will accept collateral in exchange for your loan. If you’re comfortable with the risk, think about putting down your home or vehicle as collateral. Remember that if you can’t pay off your loan, you will lose your collateral, which can put you in serious financial trouble.
Search for bad-credit lenders: Lenders that specialize in personal loans for bad credit may be the best place to turn if you’re having trouble qualifying elsewhere. You may encounter double-digit APRs, but these lenders are more trustworthy options than payday lenders.
Answer a few questions to see which personal loans you pre-qualify for. The process is quick and easy, and it will not impact your credit score.
The bottom line
If you’re having trouble qualifying for a loan on your own, enlisting a co-signer could be a viable option. However, before accepting the loan offer, sit down with your co-signer to have an honest discussion about the loan amount, terms and repayment plan. If you have contingencies in place, it’s less likely that your relationship will be at risk down the line.
After 70 years in Monterey County, 87-year-old Mary Martinez moved in the middle of a pandemic, evicted from her modest one-bedroom, second-floor apartment at 1118 Parkside St. in north Salinas.
According to her former landlord, Martinez was evicted because she allowed a “violent man” to live with her, violating the conditions of her lease. Martinez said the man is her epileptic nephew.
Advocates say that while evictions like Martinez’s are rarer during the pandemic, landlords are feeling the financial squeeze. Some have sold rental properties to make up for lack of income. That can leave renters out in the cold when their new landlord raises the rent by hundreds of dollars or requires all renters move out before they take over the building.
“I don’t want to leave”
Nearly half the housing units in Monterey County are renter-occupied and of those renters, about half pay 35% or more of their monthly income in rental costs, according to American Community Survey (ACS).
The same data shows people of color tend to be renters rather than homeowners. People ACS data identified as Hispanic, Latino or Mexican –– such as Martinez –– make up the largest body of renters in the county.
Martinez does not deny violating her lease agreement but said her landlord was looking for an excuse to kick her out since March when he bought her building.
She also said she believed her status as a Section 8 recipient made her a target, an assertion her landlord denied.
According to Martinez, he soured on her after her epileptic nephew suffered a seizure in the bathroom, leaving emergency crews to break down the locked door. Martinez paid about $70 to replace the door, she said
In June, she received a 90-day notice to evict.
“I don’t want to leave,” Martinez said through tears during a July interview. Her voice quavered. She sat on her living room couch, her shoulders slumped.
In August, she closed the door to apartment 10 behind her for the last time.
“Keep the house housed”
At the state level, Assembly Bill 3088, co-authored by California State Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), keeps renters facing hardship due to COVID-19 in their homes.
The legislation, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August, states tenants who have provided qualifying declarations of hardship can’t be evicted before Feb. 1, 2021.
Monterey County, like other counties, passed a similar moratorium early in the pandemic, extending it multiple times to keep it alive until the state legislature could find a solution.
Martinez is not the only person to be evicted or lose their housing during the pandemic. The moratoriums dealt with eviction for nonpayment of rent, not of someone in violation of their lease, as Martinez was. Others saw their landlords sell to new owners who raised the rent an untenable amount.
Far fewer people have been evicted during the pandemic than anticipated, said Joel Hernández Laguna, the lead organizer for Center for Community Advocacy’s (CCA). But in recent months, CCA received a higher-than-usual number of calls about people being forced out of their homes due to rent increases.
“You have to see the other point of view,” said Hernández Laguna, who has worked for CCA for almost nine years. “Some landlords are struggling to make payments on properties they rent out.”
He suspects that resulted in higher property turnover than normal. New owners often stipulate in the purchase contract that all tenants must move out upon sale of the property, or raise the rents so much the current tenants can’t stay, Hernández Laguna said.
“Landlords aren’t able to evict people with the current ordinances so instead are (increasing) the rent,” he said. “Which is another way of pushing them out indirectly.”
Matt Huerta, Director of housing at the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP), said housing stakeholders are raising the issue of eviction and housing in MBEP group discussions.
“Our overarching message has been to keep the housed housed,” Huerta said. “Unless it’s a health and safety problem – in terms of the tenant creating a health and safety problem – everyone should be motivated to prevent a large health and safety problem to prevent evictions that will lead to crowded housing and homelessness.”
Phyllis Katz, directing attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) of Monterey County, said while CRLA had not seen any eviction cases during the pandemic, an eviction could lead to the same – or worse – consequences for someone.
“People acquire bad credit by being evicted,” Katz said in an email.
That bad credit can follow renters and can result in their wages being garnished to pay off debts or keep them from renting on their own. The cost of applying to apartments can be prohibitive, too.
“It costs $30-$50 for each application for housing,” Katz said. “People stay with relatives if they can, or in their car, if they can’t until they find housing.”
That can put people at risk, Katz noted.
“Families who go live in crowded conditions with another family are more prone to contracting COVID-19, and suffering illness as a result,” he said.
Health experts say this creates a prime environment for the coronavirus to spread throughout a household.
A June analysis by The Californian and CalMatters showed the hardest-hit neighborhoods had three times the rate of overcrowding and twice the rate of poverty as the neighborhoods that suffered the least. The neighborhoods with the most infections are disproportionately populated by people of color.
“People end up in that situation because they don’t want to become homeless,” Hernández Laguna said. “Families are willing to share an apartment complex or bring someone else into their home to pay the rent. One of the consequences of being evicted is having to overshare a property.”
Personal and financial loss
At first glance, you wouldn’t know Martinez is in the latter half of her ninth decade.
Before the pandemic, she walked to church almost every day for services. When she lived in Salinas, she’d walk to a nearby grocery store to purchase food, and carried it home herself, two blocks and up a flight of stairs.
Martinez’s age puts her at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19, should she contract the virus.
An eviction increases the odds she might encounter the virus, as she is no longer able to safely isolate herself, and moved three times in fewer than two months. Her sisters, who hosted Martinez following her eviction, are also at increased risk. Both women are in their 70s.
Martinez eventually moved to Pueblo, Colo. to stay with her younger sister, Esther, 76.
In the midst of all this, Martinez is struggling with the loss of her nephew, Greg Palacios.
Palacios was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his seizure in Martinez’s bathroom. He moved into hospice care and died over the summer.
Martinez cried as she talked about his death. She was unable to visit him while he was in care hospice due to pandemic-induced restrictions on visitors.
Martinez is wrestling with financial concerns as well.
She can’t afford a new apartment without the six weeks’ worth of rent, she told The Californian. She has little in the way of savings – she never married and worked mainly as a babysitter and a housekeeper.
While she hopes to keep her Section 8 status, she doesn’t know how moving out of state will impact her.
Furthermore, Martinez said she did not receive her deposit back when she moved out and was owed two weeks’ rent.
When reached by phone, her landlord introduced himself as “Pete.” He confirmed he had been Martinez’s landlord, but refused multiple times to give his last name, or say how long he had owned the property.
According to Monterey County Assessor records, 1118 Parkside St., the complex where Martinez used to live, was purchased by Ace Organic in March of 2020, which is headquartered in Salinas. An LLC-12 Statement of Information filed with the Secretary of State shows Peter Quinlan King as the owner of Ace Organic.
King told The Californian he worked in conjunction with the Housing Authority to evict Martinez, informing them on “everything, step by step.” He also pointed out that he had multiple Section 8 tenants on the premises.
“Mary had a violent and unauthorized tenant living there, so that was cause for eviction,” King said when reached for comment.
According to Monterey attorney David Brown, who handles civil matters between landlords and tenants, if Palacios had been on the lease with Martinez, it likely would have been unlawful to evict them due to his seizure.
As Martinez paid for the damage done to the door, Brown said, that might have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I don’t know for sure but…assuming that was the landlord’s motivation, yeah, that would probably violate the ADA,” Brown said.
King declined to comment further on Martinez’s eviction, or if he planned to return her deposit.
Although Martinez reached out to the Housing Authority for help and spoke regularly with her caseworker, she found herself confused as to whether she truly had to move out, or if her eviction notice was just a warning.
She moved out in August but still had doubts at the time of her departure.
Hernández Laguna urged people facing eviction or unanticipated rent increases to reach out to his organization or CRLA for help.
“Seek help,” he said. “There are protections out there for families.”
In Pueblo, Martinez found a new home with her sister Esther, though she doesn’t like the cold that’s begun to settle in for the Colorado winter.
Esther says she hopes Martinez will stay with her. Pueblo had a low rate of COVID-19 compared to the rest of Colorado, but in recent weeks has seen cases rise. Still, Esther said she feels she and Mary are safe from the virus there.
“I think Mary’s going to stay here,” said Esther. “We’ll go to California to visit.”
Kate Cimini is a reporter with The Salinas Californian. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.
ATLANTA _ Many Black entrepreneurs struggle to get bank loans and professional help to launch new businesses. A new program aims to remove those stumbling blocks.
An Atlanta nonprofit and another business have committed $150 million to the 1 Million Black Businesses effort, which will make loans and provide financial and business advice to Black-owned startups and established small businesses. Atlanta-based nonprofit Operation Hope, which helps consumers improve credit scores, is kicking in $20 million, and Shopify, the online e-commerce is adding another $130 million for the loans and website-hosting services.
Other services firms providing expertise or help include Aprio, an Atlanta-based accounting firm, and First Horizon Bank.
It’s a package of products that many Black entrepreneurs couldn’t get through a bank or credit union, said John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation Hope.
“A bank won’t lend you money unless you can prove that you don’t need it,” Bryant said. “That’s especially true with minority-owned small businesses.”
Small businesses with Black owners were half as likely to obtain business loans as whites, according to a Federal Reserve survey published earlier this year.
The initiative is the latest effort to help Black consumers and businesses enter the financial mainstream. Earlier this month, a group that includes rapper Killer Mike opened a digital bank aimed at Black and Latino consumers.
Banks and credit unions have tried for years to help Black consumers open checking and savings accounts. The efforts helped, as the number of U.S. households without bank accounts fell to 5.4% in 2019 from 6.5% in 2017, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Monday.
Consumers who own checking and savings accounts typically have access loans with better rates and a wider variety of financial services.
The federal government’s $660 billion loan initiative for businesses hit by COVID-19, the Paycheck Protection Program, also helped few Black-owned businesses, Bryant said. PPP loans were based on a company’s number of employees and its rent obligations. many Black-owned small businesses typically didn’t have enough workers to qualify and are based out of the owner’s residence.
Bryant said a bad credit history may not prevent applicants from receiving a loan.
He hopes more companies will contribute services such as insurance advice or software typically available only to well-established businesses.
Bryant noted that 1MBB is not a charitable organization, as participating companies like Shopify will likely get a pipeline of new business customers through the program.
“This is not pure philanthropy,” he said. “Shopify believes that Black-owned businesses are good businesses if they’re properly supported.”
The final days of October offer a chance to take advantage of outstanding model year-end deals. Most offers end November 2, which means there isn’t much time left to enjoy this month’s best lease deals and deepest new car discounts. We even found incentives that can help those with bad credit buy a new or used car.
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