To Cosign or not to Cosign

Cosigning on the dotted line
Low interest rates combined with bottom of the market housing prices in many areas has put pressure on young people to buy low cost real estate before they are able to save up an adequate down payment or qualify for a loan on their own.  Not wanting to miss out on this “perfect storm” some home buyers are turning to family members or close friends with good credit to co-sign a home loan.

  • While becoming a cosigner may seem like a good solution, money manager and lenders caution against those who are asked to be the cosigner.
  • A cosigner, even if not living in the house, is really a coborrower, meaning he or she still is responsible for payments if the occupant is unable to meet his or her obligations.  In other words, if the principal party defaults on the loan, the cosigner is on the hook.
  • One financial planner suggests potential cosigners take a less risky alternative, such as providing a cash gift for the down payment.  Under current tax laws, a person can give as much as $13,000 to a person, free of gift taxes, or $26,000 per person, if a married couple filing jointly is giving the money.
  • Those considering cosigning a mortgage must conduct due diligence.  First, the cosigner must understand why the family member or friend is asking for help.  Potential cosigners shouldn’t be afraid to look into the requestor’s personal finances to help determine whether he or she will be able to repay the loan.  Perusing credit reports also will show the track record he or she has for paying off debts.
  • A discussion about worst-case scenarios also should take place before signing on the dotted line.  Working out a written contract containing an agreement about what would happen in the event of a default, also is recommended.
  • Cosigners also should keep in mind that the mortgage will show up on their credit report, and could affect their own ability to borrow money or buy a second home.  If the principal borrower makes a late payment, that also will show up on the cosigner’s report.

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