If your child is looking to buy a house and can't qualify on their own, you may have thought about consigning on a loan. "It can be a brutal world out there, and you want to help someone you care about. That's a perfectly reasonable argument," said US News.
But have you examined the potential consequences of this action? Your good intentions could end up costing you, so you might want to ask yourself a few key questions before you sit down at the closing table.
What's the plan?
It's a good idea to examine the goals here - both yours and the recipient of your kindness. Is this house a long-term investment that will be on your credit for a long time? A short-term thing that's only intended to help establish credit for your child? A moneymaking venture that could pay off for both of you after you flip the house? Knowing the plan can help you make the best decision.
Is your child responsible?
What have you observed about your son or daughter's financial responsibility. Do they have a lot of outstanding credit they're not managing well? Do they regularly borrow money without paying it back? Do they buy a lot of unnecessary items instead of being more prudent with their money and establishing some solid savings? These could all be red flags.
What is your financial commitment?
If your child needs a cosigner, does that also mean they need help with the down payment? If your money is going to be tied up in this home purchase, you'll want to establish ground rules from the beginning. Is it a gift or a loan? If it's a loan, what are the terms? What if he or she defaults? If your name is on the mortgage, the responsibility to pay may fall to you.
GO Banking Rates
How important is your credit to you?
Your credit is going to take a bit of a hit with the addition of a new mortgage.
"The loan appears on your credit report, and the monthly loan payment factors into your debt-to-income ratio - regardless of whether the primary applicant makes the payment each month. Because you're liable for this balance in the event of default, being a cosigner can decrease your ability to get new credit," said Money Crashers. "But this isn't the only consequence of a higher debt-to-income ratio. Cosigning a loan can also lower your credit score because the amounts you owe makes up 30% of your FICO score. Thus, the more debt you have, the lower your credit score. Ideally, your debt-to-income ratio should be no higher than 36%, as your credit score will drop as your debt approaches or exceeds this percentage." But the real danger is, again, in the possibility of your child defaulting on the loan.
"The bank wants to have someone on the hook in case a loan is not repaid; if you cosign a loan, you're that person who is on the hook," said GO Banking Rates. "So if your child doesn't make his loan payments, you will be expected to do so - or risk suffering the impact of a defaulted loan on your credit score."
Will two mortgages be a hardship?
Cosigning for a loved one could prevent you from doing the things you want to do, like buying a new house for yourself, refinancing, or even buying a car. "One potential downside for parents is that the mortgage will show up on their credit as an outstanding loan obligation, which could complicate refinancing or buying another home in the future," said US News.
There may also be additional impacts to your finances you hadn't considered. "You should consult a financial advisor first to make sure you can comfortably afford to help without jeopardizing your financial security," they said. "You may also want to consult your tax preparer about potential tax implications, and, depending on the circumstances, ask a lawyer how to structure the legal paperwork in case your child divorces a spouse or defaults on the loan. Nobody plans on things going awry with real estate transactions, but it can happen, so it's best to be prepared."
How's your relationship?
"Another important risk to consider with a cosigned loan is the effect it could have on your relationship with your child," said GO Banking Rates. "Animosity can result from late payments or, even worse, defaulting on the loan."
Clear Mirror Healing
What's your goal?
If you're simply looking to lend a hand, well, first of all, that's super nice of you. Homeownership is still the American dream, and helping someone else's come true is awesome. But, is putting your credit at risk really the best plan?
There may be much better ways to help, like:
Gift a down payment - just make sure you know the tax implications.
Put the house in your name and rent it to your child - if you have the financial wherewithal and the goal is simply to provide a safe place to live, this might be a better solution. You can always pass the home along at the later date by providing seller financing.
If you choose to go ahead with cosigning, take precautions. There are steps you can take to help protect yourself, like using the tools provided by the lender to set up alert when payments are due, overdue, and when they're posted, and setting up direct debit so payments are automatically made at the same time every month.