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Co-signing or guaranteeing a loan

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Before lending money to someone, a lender may ask for a third party to co-sign or guarantee the loan. Learn how to protect yourself when co-signing or guaranteeing a loan — and how to deal with problems that arise.

What you should know

When you co-sign a loan, you and the borrower are jointly responsible for the debt. You’re both on the hook for the full amount. If one of you misses a payment, the lender can ask either of you for the money.

When you guarantee a loan, you promise to pay the debt of the borrower if they don’t pay. Before asking you, the lender must first demand payment from the borrower.

In both cases, the lender can come after you if the borrower defaults. But if you co-sign, the lender can come directly to you for payment.

If a lender is nervous about providing a loan, they may ask for a guarantee. This is a promise by another person to pay the debt if the borrower can’t. The borrower is called the “principal debtor.” The person guaranteeing the debt is called the “guarantor.”

As a guarantor, you only become responsible for the debt if the borrower defaults on an obligation. For example, by missing a loan payment. The lender must ask for payment from the principal debtor before coming to you.

Your responsibilities also depend on the type of guarantee you give. There are three types:

  • Specific or limited guarantee. You agree to be responsible for a certain amount for a certain thing.

  • Continuing guarantee. You agree to be responsible for a loan (or loans) for as long as the guarantee lasts.

  • All-accounts guarantee (or unlimited guarantee). You agree to pay whatever the principal debtor owes.

When you co-sign a loan, you and the borrower are now equal owners of the debt. You are joint debtors. If one of you misses a payment, the lender can expect it from the other. And the lender needn’t ask the borrower first. They can come directly to you.

For example, say you co-sign a $5,000 loan for your daughter. You are both responsible for paying back the full amount. If she misses a payment after repaying $1,000, the lender can ask you for the outstanding payments. The lender doesn’t need to ask your daughter first.

Pro tip: Check the loan agreement for an acceleration clause. It lets the lender demand immediate payment of the whole loan if the borrower defaults. So one missed payment could mean the whole loan becomes due.

Protect yourself

Taking these steps can prevent problems when co-signing or guaranteeing a loan.

Step 1. Ask questions

Step 2. Ask the lender to keep you informed

Step 3. When the loan is paid off

Step 1. Ask questions before guaranteeing or co-signing a loan

Before putting yourself at risk, ask questions like:

  • Why does the lender want a co-signer or guarantor?
  • How high is the risk the borrower will have trouble making payments?
  • What’ll happen if you don’t sign?
  • Can you afford to pay off the loan if the borrower can’t?

Step 2. Ask the lender to keep you informed

Ask the lender (in writing) to keep you informed in writing of all activity on the loan. This can help you catch a problem before it’s too late.

Step 3. When the loan is paid off

Once the loan is fully repaid, take steps to end your responsibility. For example, ask the lender to return the original loan document to you. Or ask for a document releasing you from all liability for the debt. This could be a letter of acknowledgment, a copy of the borrower’s discharge, or a release.

Work out problems

There are steps you can take to work out problems that arise when co-signing or guaranteeing a loan.

Step 1. Consider whether you are liable

Step 2. Negotiate a reduced payment

Step 3. Negotiate to limit your liability

Step 4. Make an agreement with the other borrower

Step 1. Consider whether you are liable

In some cases you may not be responsible for a debt if you guarantee or co-sign a loan. For example, a lender (or borrower) can’t use force, fraud, duress or illegal means to get you to sign.

The law allows certain defences for guarantors that aren’t open to co-signers. For example, if the lender and principal debtor make changes to the guarantee that are harmful to the guarantor, the guarantor may not be liable.

Step 2. Negotiate a reduced payment

Say you’ve co-signed or guaranteed a loan, the borrower has defaulted, and the lender is asking you to pay up. What do you do if you can’t afford it? One option is to negotiate a reduced payment. The lender may agree to release you from liability if you pay a portion of the loan.

Step 3. Negotiate to limit your liability

Consider negotiating with the lender to limit your liability for the loan. For example, the lender may agree to release you from responsibility if:

  • someone else is willing to replace you as co-signer or guarantor
  • the borrower has already repaid most of the loan
  • there are enough other co-signers or guarantors to satisfy the lender

Step 4. Make an agreement with the other borrower

As a guarantor or co-signer, you can make a separate contract with the other borrower. In it, you can set out what happens in the event of a default. For example, you could say that the other borrower must reimburse you for any payments you make if they default. This is called “indemnifying” you.

If you want to go further, we have more on co-signing or guaranteeing a loan. See our in-depth coverage of this topic.

Who can help

This agency can help with some types of borrowing problems.

Consumer Protection BC logo
Consumer Protection BC
They can help if you’re having trouble with a debt collector or debt collection agency.
Call 1-888-564-9963 📞Visit website 🌎

If you get into a tricky situation co-signing or guaranteeing a loan, consider getting legal advice.

Access Pro Bono logo
Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a free half-hour consult.
Visit website 🌎Call 1-800-663-1919 📞
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Clinics
Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Visit website 🌎Call 1-877-762-6664 📞
People's Law School logo
People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
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  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in December 2019
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Mario Garcia, Ratcliff & Company LLP

Mario Garcia, Ratcliff & Company LLP

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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