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If your credit and finances are in good shape and you have friends or relatives who are not in such a good credit position, you may have been approached to co-sign for a loan or credit card.

While your friend or relative may deserve the help, it’s not always wise to lend a hand to a sagging financial situation. Here are six reasons why you should think twice before you sign on the dotted line for someone.

1. Risk-to-Reward Ratio Doesn’t Favor You

If you co-sign a loan, the liability lies squarely on your shoulders should your friend or relative not make the payments. They may still be enjoying the home or car they got with the loan while you are left holding the bag on the responsibility of paying it off. And, if you don’t…

2. A Lender May Sue You if Payments Are Not Made

“When a cosigned loan goes into default, the creditor can collect against all who are named on the account since they have an equal share of the responsibility to repay the entire balance,” according to Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “A creditor can make their own decision to pursue the primary borrower or collect from the cosigner. It is common for a lender to make first attempts to contact from the primary before turning attention to the cosigner.”

3. If a Loan Payment Isn’t Made, Your Credit Is Impacted

The co-signed loan will appear on your credit reports, including the payment history — good or bad — for the loan. While the damage late payments can do is mitigated over time, generally, your credit report can be severely impacted for years. You can see how your payment habits are affecting your credit by viewing a snapshot of your credit report, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

4. Your Relationship May Suffer

As the old saying goes, “money and friendships don’t mix.” Placing your credit report and therefore credit scores in the hands of another individual can place a strain on a relationship. You may begin to notice other money behaviors that you previously thought were quirky or endearing that now seem alarming. Your feelings about your loved one may change in a negative way.

“It is not uncommon for relationships to end when cosigned loans slip into default, leaving much more than a financial mess,” McClary said. “This can be prevented if people either avoid cosigning altogether or proceed with a plan that accommodates for keeping the lines of communication open during hard times.”

5. You Could Face Tax Consequences

When autos are repossessed, there can sometimes be what is known as a deficiency balance. This is the result of when the lender has repossessed the vehicle, takes it to auction and is not able to recoup the amount still owed by the borrower.  Some lenders will forgive or write off a deficiency balance if it’s obvious the borrower has no assets, but if you’re co-signing for someone, chances are there are enough assets between you and the person you’ve co-signed for that the lender is not going to be as lenient. In that case, the deficiency balance could be turned over to a collection agency that may be willing to cut a deal to accept less money than is owed and will mark the debt as paid in full.

In the case of credit card debt, once a debt goes 90 days delinquent, a bank is usually willing to talk debt settlement.

In cases where the amount forgiven during debt settlement (or the difference between what is owed and what the lender gets for a car at auction) is $600 or more, a lender must issue a Form 1099-C or 1099-A to the borrower (and the co-signer) and the difference must be reported as income on that year’s tax returns. That’s because the difference between what is paid on the debt and what is owed is considered a net income gain by the IRS, and taxes need to be paid on this gain. If your tax bracket is 28% and the amount forgiven is $2,000, you could wind up owing Uncle Sam an additional $560 come April 15.

6. You May Be Turned Down for Other Loans

Even if your friend or relative makes all the payments on time, your borrowing ability will be affected.

“Provided that the creditor reports account activity to the credit bureaus, cosigning a loan will likely mean that the account will show up on the cosigner’s credit report,” McClary said. “This means that it will impact their debt ratio, which influences a lender’s decision about whether they can afford to take on more debt.”

Image: BartekSzewczyk

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