Home > Credit 101 > Half of Students Don’t Understand What a Co-Signer Is

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Most people who borrow money to go to college take out federal student loans. One of the main reasons for that is because they’re very easy to get: Many federal student loan programs do not require the applicant to show financial need, and most don’t require a credit check. Even if you have no credit, which many high school graduates do not, you can probably get a federal student loan.

But that’s not always enough. There are limits to how much you can borrow from the government for each school year, and it’s rarely enough to cover the full cost of attendance. Without scholarships or savings, students may need to turn to private student loans. Because these students often have no credit history, they frequently need a co-signer in order to get the loan.

Getting a co-signer for a loan is a big deal — you’re asking someone to risk their credit standing and financial stability so you can borrow money — but unfortunately, many students don’t seem to grasp the gravity of that request.

Nearly half (47%) of undergraduate students surveyed by U.S. Bank said they thought co-signers would not be held accountable for paying off a student loan if the student can’t find a job. While many co-signers probably wish that were the case, that’s not how it works. No matter the circumstances, co-signers are rarely let off the hook for the loans they helped someone obtain.

While it’s crucial a potential co-signer understand the magnitude of their responsibility in this partnership, it’s just as important the primary borrower understand the liability, as well.

The U.S. Bank data comprises survey responses from 1,640 full- and part-time students ages 18 through 30, and the sample was weighted to be nationally representative. It’s possible the misconception about co-signer accountability in the event of borrower unemployment is skewed by responses from students who have no experience with co-signed student loans. Still, co-signing isn’t limited to education loans, so it’s a financial practice adults should understand.

Other statistics from the survey indicate much room for improvement in students’ knowledge of credit and personal finance basics. For example, more than half of students don’t check their credit scores, which is something all consumers should do regularly. Your credit standing can have a huge impact on various aspects of your life, including your ability to find somewhere to live, so it’s worth it to check your free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus and to take a little time each month to review your credit scores. You can get your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com, and that information can help you make everyday decisions that help you build a good credit score.

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