What Is a Cosigner?


A cosigner is an individual who agrees to take equal responsibility for repaying a loan or credit card if the primary borrower fails to meet their obligations. Cosigners are often required when the primary borrower’s credit history or debt-to-income ratio isn’t strong enough to secure the loan independently.

mother and daughter talking to loan officer

Being a cosigner isn’t merely a formality. It means you are legally responsible for the debt as if it were your own. If the primary borrower defaults or misses payments, the cosigner’s credit score can be negatively impacted. Conversely, making payments on time can help build the cosigner credit score.

Key Takeaways

  • A cosigner is equally responsible for a loan if the primary borrower defaults, offering lenders assurance through their credit and income. It’s often required when the borrower lacks strong credit or has a high debt-to-income ratio.
  • Cosigning benefits the primary borrower by helping them secure credit or loans they might not otherwise obtain. However, it carries risks for the cosigner, as missed payments impact both parties’ credit scores and create financial liability.
  • Alternatives to cosigning, such as credit-builder loans, secured credit cards, and peer-to-peer lending, can help borrowers establish credit independently.

Why Lenders Require Cosigners

Lenders often require cosigners when the primary borrower’s credit history or credit scores aren’t high enough or when the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio is too high. When a cosigner agrees to sign onto someone else’s loan, it provides a safety net for the lender. The cosigner’s good credit and steady income offer assurance that the loan will be repaid.

In some cases, a co borrower may not have a credit history at all, making it difficult for lenders to assess their risk. This is common among young adults or immigrants who haven’t had a chance to build credit in the country. In such cases, having a cosigner can be invaluable.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Cosigner

Benefits of Being a Cosigner

As a cosigner, you’re helping a family member or friend secure a credit product they might not otherwise be able to obtain. This could be a personal loan, an auto loan, a mortgage loan, or a credit card.

Risks Involved with Being a Cosigner

However, there are significant risks involved. As a cosigner, you are legally obligated to repay the debt if the primary borrower fails to do so. This means the lender can pursue you for payment, and missed payments will show up on your credit report.

Moreover, the loan appears on both you and the borrower’s credit reports. This could negatively impact your credit, potentially making it harder for you to borrow money in the future.

Pros and Cons of Using a Cosigner

Advantages of Having a Cosigner

For the primary borrower, having a cosigner can help them secure a loan with a lower interest rate than they might get on their own. Plus, if they make their monthly payments on time, they can build their credit.

Potential Disadvantages

However, the primary borrower must understand that they are also putting the cosigner’s financial stability at risk. If they default on the loan, it could damage their relationship with the cosigner.

How Cosigning Affects Credit Scores

Cosigning a loan has a direct impact on credit scores of both parties. The credit bureaus treat the debt as equally belonging to the borrower and the cosigner.

For the primary borrower, the loan provides an opportunity to build credit history. On time payments will help improve their credit score. However, any missed or late payments will negatively impact both the borrower and the cosigner’s credit score.

Cosigning and Its Effect on Relationships

Cosigning a loan or an apartment lease can significantly impact personal relationships, particularly if the primary borrower encounters difficulties making payments. It’s essential to note that being a cosigner isn’t just a financial commitment, but also an emotional one.

When you agree to become a cosigner, you’re expressing your trust in the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. If the borrower fails to meet their obligations, this could lead to tension, conflict, and even lasting damage to your relationship.

Here are some tips on how to address these potential issues:

  • Open communication: Before agreeing to cosign, have an honest discussion with the borrower about their financial situation and their plan for repaying the loan. Make sure both parties understand the risks and responsibilities involved.
  • Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries from the start. This could include agreeing on how you’ll handle late or missed payments, and under what circumstances you might consider taking over the loan payments.
  • Stay informed: Request access to the loan account so you can keep an eye on the payment status. This way, you won’t be caught off guard by any issues with the loan.

What to Do If a Borrower Defaults

If the main borrower does not make the required payments, as a cosigner, you will be held responsible for repaying the debt. Here are some steps you can take if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Contact the lender: As soon as you realize there’s a problem, contact the lender. They may be able to work out a payment plan, or even temporary hardship forbearance, which can buy you some time to figure out your next steps.
  • Communicate with the borrower: Speak with the borrower about the situation. Try to figure out why they missed the payments and discuss how they plan to rectify it.
  • Consider legal advice: If the borrower continues to default, you might want to contact a legal professional to understand your options.
  • Protect your credit: If you can afford to, you may want to catch up on the payments to prevent damage to your credit score.

Alternatives to Cosigning

While having a cosigner can certainly help individuals with poor or limited credit history secure a loan or credit card, it’s not the only path towards financial credibility. If you’re looking to borrow money but don’t have a cosigner, consider these alternatives:

  • Credit-builder loans: Credit-builder loans are small loans offered by some credit unions, banks, and online lenders specifically designed to help individuals build or improve their credit. The lending institution holds the loan proceeds in a deposit account until the borrower has made all the scheduled payments. The bank reports these payments to the credit bureaus, helping the borrower build a credit history.
  • Secured credit cards: Secured credit cards require a cash deposit that serves as collateral and typically doubles as the credit limit for the card. Like any other credit card, you use it to make purchases and pay off your balance monthly. Responsible use and timely payments are reported to the credit bureaus, improving your credit score over time.
  • Secured loans: Similar to secured credit cards, secured loans require collateral. This could be a vehicle, a home, or another asset. While these loans can be easier to obtain than unsecured loans, keep in mind that the asset you use as collateral is at risk if you fail to make payments.
  • Personal loans: Some lenders offer personal loans to individuals with bad or no credit, but they often come with high interest rates. It’s essential to ensure you understand the terms and can afford the repayments before taking on such a loan.
  • Peer-to-peer lending: This is a form of borrowing from individuals instead of traditional banks or credit unions. The interest rates can be lower for borrowers with lower credit scores compared to traditional banks.
  • Credit unions: Credit unions often have more flexible lending standards than banks and may be more willing to offer a loan. They also typically offer lower interest rates and fees.

Steps to Take if You Decide to Cosign

If you decide to cosign a loan, make sure you’re prepared for the financial responsibility. Here are a few steps to take:

  • Review the primary borrower’s financial details: Before you agree to cosign, review the borrower’s financial status. This includes their income, their other debts, and their credit report. If you have any concerns about their ability to make payments, it’s better to address these before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Understand Your Legal Responsibility: You should fully understand the loan agreement before you sign it. This includes knowing how much the monthly payments will be, what the interest rate is, and what will happen if the borrower fails to make payments.
  • Monitor the Loan: After the loan proceeds have been distributed, keep track of the primary borrower’s payments. You can request that the lender reports any late or missed payments to you directly. This will allow you to intervene before your credit score is affected.

How to Remove a Cosigner from a Loan

Sometimes, a primary borrower may want to remove a cosigner from a loan. This is usually possible once they have improved their credit score or increased their income. They can do this by refinancing the loan or by applying for a cosigner release. However, not all lenders offer this option, and it typically requires a credit check and proof of income.

If the borrower can’t remove the cosigner, the cosigner could consider refinancing the loan in their name. This would remove them from the loan and make the cosigner the sole owner of the debt. However, this option should be considered carefully, as it could have significant financial implications.

Bottom Line

Cosigning a loan is a significant responsibility that should not be taken lightly. It can have a major impact on your credit score and your financial future. However, if done responsibly, it can also provide a valuable opportunity for a family member or friend to secure a credit product and build their credit history.

It’s essential to understand all aspects of cosigning before agreeing to it. You should review all financial details, understand your legal responsibility, and monitor the loan closely.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a cosigner be removed before the loan is fully paid off?

Yes, a cosigner can be removed from some loans before they’re fully paid off. This typically requires a process known as cosigner release or loan refinancing. However, not all loans provide these options. Additionally, they often require the primary borrower to meet certain criteria, such as making a series of timely payments or passing a credit check.

Does being a cosigner make it hard for me to get a loan?

Being a cosigner can affect your ability to get a loan. The loan you’ve cosigned for will appear on your credit report and could increase your debt-to-income ratio. If you apply for a loan, lenders will consider this when assessing your creditworthiness.

What happens if the primary borrower dies?

If the primary borrower dies, the cosigner is typically responsible for the remaining debt. However, some loans contain provisions that discharge the debt upon the borrower’s death. It’s important to understand the terms of the loan agreement.

Can I cosign a loan for a friend, or does it have to be a family member?

A cosigner can be anyone who is willing to accept the financial responsibility for the loan if the primary borrower defaults. This can be a friend, a family member, or even a close associate.

Will cosigning affect my credit score?

Yes, cosigning a loan can affect your credit score. If the borrower makes all their payments on time, it can positively impact your credit score. However, if they miss payments or default on the loan, it can negatively affect your credit score. Additionally, the loan will increase your overall debt load, which could lower your credit score.

Can a cosigner live in a different state?

Yes, a cosigner can live in a different state. The only thing that matters is that the cosigner meets the lender’s requirements, such as having a strong credit history and sufficient income to cover the loan payments if the primary borrower defaults.

Can I cosign for more than one loan?

Yes, you can cosign for more than one loan. However, each loan you cosign will appear on your credit report and can affect your debt-to-income ratio. This could potentially make it harder for you to get credit for yourself in the future.

What is the difference between a cosigner and a co-borrower?

A cosigner guarantees the loan if the borrower defaults, but they typically have no ownership interest in the purchased item (like a house or car). A co-borrower, on the other hand, shares equal responsibility for repaying the loan and often shares ownership of the item purchased with the loan.

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