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Archive for Friday, January 13, 2006

Consider risks before co-signing loan application

January 13, 2006

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Q: I co-signed a loan application for my son and daughter-in-law back in 1994 so they could get a mortgage to buy a house. They filed for divorce last fall and my son has moved out, but neither one has made a mortgage payment in the past 60 days. Now the bank is sending me letters, saying that I must make the payments myself in order to avoid foreclosure and protect my own credit rating. My name is not on the title to their home, and I have never made a payment for them in the past. What are my legal rights and obligations here?

I'm afraid that you're in for a tough lesson about the dangers of co-signing for a mortgage.

For starters, the bank clearly has the right to insist that you now begin making the payments on your son and daughter-in-law's home. If you don't, it also has the right to begin foreclosure proceedings on their home and thus put a serious black spot on your credit record.

The fact that your name is not on the title to the property and that you have never made a payment on their behalf is irrelevant. The only thing that really matters is that your name is still on their original loan application, which makes you just as legally responsible for the debt as they are.

It's imperative that the three of you work out a plan to either resume making the payments immediately or else sell the home quickly and pay off the mortgage with the proceeds.

If you can't work out an agreement soon, the bank will indeed foreclose and sell the property itself.

Contact the bank immediately to explain the situation and ask for its advice. It also would be wise to consult a real estate attorney and ask if any state law might offer some sort of protection to people in similar binds, or if there are some steps you can take now to limit the potential damage to your individual credit profile.

- David W. Myers is a veteran of the newspaper and magazine business.

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