1 in 3 Cosigners for Auto Loans or Credit Cards Get Stuck With the Bill

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About 17% of Americans have, at one time or another, cosigned on a loan or credit card for someone else. Most often the cosigner is an adult over the age of 50 helping a child or stepchild get an auto loan. The bad news is that 38% of cosigners had to pay some or all the loan or credit card bill because the primary borrower failed to pay.

The cost to a cosigner extends beyond the unpaid debt itself. According to CreditCards.com, 28% of cosigners experienced a drop in their credit scores because the person for whom they cosigned paid late or not at all. And more than a quarter (26%) said the cosigning experience damaged their relationship with the person from whom they were cosigners.

One reason why fewer than one in five Americans has cosigned for a loan is that the process usually requires that the cosigner reveal a lot of personal information, not a particularly popular requirement these day. In response to the question, “Who have you cosigned for?” those surveyed answered:

  • Child or stepchild, 45%
  • Friend, 21%
  • Spouse or partner, 14%
  • Parent, 7%
  • Grandchild, 6%
  • Sibling, 6%

Earning more than $75,000 makes a person a little more likely to cosign. Nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents in that category have cosigned for a loan or credit card, compared with the overall average of 17%. Only 11% of people who earn $30,000 or less have cosigned for someone else.

Auto loans account for 51% of all cosignings. Personal loans account for 24% of cosignings, student loans for 19% and credit cards for 16%.

The survey revealed that more than one in four cosigners said their own credit scores were damaged because they signed for a debt that was paid late or not repaid at all. More than one in three ended up paying the debt they had cosigned on.

CreditCard.com suggests that people avoid cosigning for a loan or credit card if one or both of the following conditions apply:

  • The borrower has a pattern of not meeting financial obligations.
  • You are, yourself, in an unstable financial situation.

A more general bit of advice may also sound familiar: “If you don’t have [the funds] to literally give away right now, don’t do it.” It’s like the old saying about gambling, don’t play if you can’t afford to lose it all.

Survey methodology: The 2016 CreditCards.com co-signing survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International via telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 2,003 adults living in the continental United States, including 388 cosigners, from April 14 to 17 and May 5 to 8, 2016. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.