How Co-Signing Can Affect More Than Just Your Credit Score

By Steven Shaw on 6/6/2013

Credit Score

How Co-Signing Can Affect More Than Just Your Credit Score

My response was always a drawn out, “Ehhh…”

Ultimately a local credit union stepped in at the last minute to finance my car. That was days after my Dad had told me he would be “happy” to co-sign on a loan with me, but I was relieved to avoid getting the old man involved since I was really out to prove my financial independence and cut the money cord. Heck, I’d moved across the country; did I still need my Dad’s “blessing” [e.g. guarantee] to buy a car, too?

Co-Signing Stories: The Good and the Bad

Putting a large sum of money between two people can really alter a relationship — both good and bad — depending on the process and the outcome. I’ve heard some instances where co-signing brought two people together, and others where the stress of the loan ultimately strained the relationship.

I posed the question of co-signing to some valued members of a prominent online forum I administrate, and the feedback I got was wide-ranging. One gentleman I talked to, Patrick, was happy to report that his co-signing experience actually built a bond between him and his father-in-law.

“I think it showed a lot of trust in me on his part,” Patrick explained. “He certainly trusts me a lot more because I never missed a payment and did him right.”

Another user I talked to, Marlena, was grateful that her father co-signed on a car for her, pointing out one of the undervalued ways in which a co-signer can help out the friend or family member: building their credit.

“My dad co-signed on a car with me when I was 19. It helped me build my credit and I wouldn’t have been approved for that much without him,” she said. Marlena added that she has since paid off her co-signed loan, and has actually used the co-signing strategy to improve her husband’s credit score by adding him to multiple good-standing credit card accounts in her name.

That said, not every co-signing story I came across was good.

Long-time contributor Heather spoke candidly about co-signing on an auto loan for her mother-in-law.

“It was a terrible experience,” Heather said. “She always paid the loan one day before it was 30 days late.” Heather added the experience “strained” the relationship between her and her mother-in-law, despite the fact that she never had a 30-day late on her credit because of the loan.

“I would never do it again,” she said matter-of-factly.

Things to Consider When Co-Signing

To put it bluntly, co-signing essentially puts your credit score in the hands of someone else. This can have either a positive or negative effect on your score. In one regard, each on-time payment made on the loan gives your credit profile and credit history a boost. On the flip side, if they make a late payment, you make a late payment in the eyes of lenders.

So here’s what you need to consider and be sure of before signing off as a co-signer:

Is your relationship rock solid?

Since paying off a loan is a multi-year commitment, it’s important to be confident that the relationship between you and the friend or family member you’re co-signing with will stand the test of time. If there’s any doubt in your mind, it’s probably not worth the risk to your credit.

How healthy is this person’s financial well-being?

You’re obviously not going to co-sign on a loan with someone whose spending practices you know to be erratic. But if you’re unaware of the purchasing practices of the person you’re considering co-signing with, be frank with them. Ask them what their current financial situation is, and don’t hold back.

It’s not rude to poke for information when it directly affects you and your well being. Consider asking about income, monthly bills like rent and utilities, and determine if the numbers are really going to add up. The bank’s going to do the same thing when weighing the risks of lending — why wouldn’t you do the same to get a better idea of their financial landscape before you pick up the pen to sign?

Successful or not, is co-signing worth it?

Ultimately, co-signing on a loan with a friend or family member is going to bring you that much closer, for better or worse. No matter how much you trust this person’s judgment, teaming up for a big financial decision can put a strain on a relationship throughout the process, especially during tough times. And yet as some of the consumers above have noted, co-signing gave them more confidence in the relationships they had with loved ones.

It’s up to you to determine whether, successful or not, the risks of co-signing are worth taking.

Image: iStockphoto

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