If you’ve read my articles, heard me on the radio or seen me on television as an expert on personal finance and entrepreneurship, you’ve heard me say over and over again that co-signing on a credit card, auto loan, or any other kind of debt is one of the worst money decisions you can make. Often, though, it’s not the request that’s hard to say no to, but the person asking—usually someone you have an emotional connection to, who can use guilt, sympathy, or romance (real or desired) to make it hard for you to just say NO. So I’m going to help you out with some things you can say when you need to say “No” to a parent, a child, a sibling or a romantic interest—especially a romantic interest—who asks you to co-sign.

Say, “No, because I’ll be taking all the risk, and getting little or no reward.” Think about it: they’ll be driving that car, not you. They need you to use the credit card, but because of your good credit, you don’t need them. On-time payments won’t help your credit much, but missed or late payments could destroy your credit score. Can you really afford to cover the payments if they don’t? Then just say NO.

Say, “No, because I don’t want to risk getting sued.” Did you know that if the person you co-signed for stops making payments, you are the one who gets sued? Remember, you and your good credit is why the lender is willing to grant the loan. When they want to collect on the balance, whom do you think they’ll come after: you, or your broke (now ex) girlfriend with the horrible credit? By the way, they’ll want the entire balance—not just your half—plus fees and penalties. Can you really afford to get sued? Then just say NO.

Say, “No, because if you can’t protect your own credit, how are you going to protect mine?” When you co-sign for someone, you’re trusting that person to treat your credit as if it were his or hers. However, if they followed your example, they’d have good credit, and they wouldn’t need you as a co-signer! Why would you believe they’re going to treat your credit any better than they handled their own? Here’s a hint: there’s a three out of four chance that they won’t. Take a good look at their track record. If they’ve never been that fourth person, just say NO.

Say, “No, because our relationship means too much to me.” Cosigning is just as likely to destroy friendship, family or love relationships, as it is to wreck your finances. Picture this: You have to always remind (they’d say nag) the other party to make sure they make the required payments on time—or sit on pins and needles while hoping they do it without you having to ask about it. That makes you touchy, and them defensive. Not exactly a recipe for a happy relationship. And just let them miss one payment. Or several. Or stop paying altogether!

If you really care about them, just say NO. If they really care about you, they’ll accept that. And if they don’t, be even more happy you didn’t cosign!

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