Borrower Beware: Co-Signed and Guaranteed Loans Can Haunt You for Years

In the spirit of Halloween, the scariest article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal wasn’t about the story about new ways that haunted houses are terrorizing people.

Nope, the one that gave me nightmares was about the perils of co-signed debt, lurking in the shadows, waiting to attack a parent (or grandparent) for co-signing a student loan.

And this is a monster that can’t be out-run: In addition to being 100% responsible for the debt, the student loan debt could be deemed non-dischargeable in a Bankruptcy by the guarantor.

Long story short, the debt could follow you for years, until it’s paid in full. The Wall Street Journal did a follow-up blog post, providing more advice for those considering co-signing student loan debt.

According to that blog post, “90% of private loans had co-signers last year.” The reason is obvious: if there is any level of risk of non-payment, a lender wants to get more obligors to collect against.

This should be a cause of concern for any person asked to co-sign a loan, whether it be a consumer loan or a commercial loan. Think carefully before signing it. If it goes bad, you could be liable for the entire amount.

Also, read the terms carefully. On many personal guaranty agreements, especially ones involving long term credit advances, the guarantor’s obligation to guarantee advances may out-last their involvement with the business that borrowed the money.

Sometimes, the only way to beat this monster is to never sign up for the fight in the first place.

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