We’ve had many readers write in after a divorce and ask how to split their assets with an ex-spouse. One of the most common questions is how to remove an ex or another cosigner from a car loan and title. Here’s how to go about it.
What’s the Role of a Cosigner?
It can be challenging to remove a cosigner from a loan. To gain a better understanding of why, let’s look at why a cosigner is used at all. Essentially, a cosigner is needed when the borrowers own credit and/or income isn’t enough to qualify for the loan by himself or herself. The cosigner, presumably, has stronger credit and income, and is required by the lender or creditor to help guarantee that the loan will be repaid.
Loans involving a cosigner include a cosigners notice. The notice asks that the cosigner guarantee the debt. This means that if the original borrower fails to make payments on the debt, then the cosigner becomes responsible for the balance. The cosigner then is obligated to make payments until the debt is paid when the borrower can’t.
Co-signing a loan is risky for the cosigner, because it can affect the cosigner’s credit if the borrower doesn’t satisfy the debt and the cosigner has to take over. The debt can ultimately affect the cosigner’s credit scores and access to revolving credit, such as credit cards.
Before co-signing a loan, a cosigner should be sure that he/she is able to comfortably take on the monthly payments if it comes to that. The cosigner should also make sure he/she doesn’t need to get a loan of his/her own over the course of the cosigned loans terms. Cosigning on the borrower’s debt will affect the cosigner’s overall credit utilization and ability to secure other credit opportunities in the meantime.
Now that you know the role of a co-signer let’s look at what you can do to remove them from a car loan if needed.
Refinance the Car Loan to Get the Cosigner Off
You may be able to refinance a car loan in your own name to get your cosigner off the loan. In essence, you’ll buy the car from your ex-spouse and go through the car buying process again.
The spouse who is responsible for the car loan payments, the primary signer, should ideally assume credit liability for the loan. It’s a also good idea to go through this process right away, regardless of what your divorce decree states.
Divorce decrees (or court orders) don’t release either person from his/her obligations under the original contract of the loan. That means that if you and your ex-spouse have a joint account, like a car loan, and if the spouse who is supposed to pay doesn’t, the negative credit history will end up on both of your credit reports, and those late payments will damage both of your credit ratings. In fact, the other person may not know about the unpaid account until a collection agency calls.
Removing your ex from the car’s title, if the car already paid for, is similar and requires working with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). You’ll both need to sign a change of title/vehicle ownership form and return it for processing. You can check online or call your state’s DMV for details and forms.
In some states you can file a transfer of title between family members, if the divorce has not been finalized yet. A transfer of title lets you avoid getting any needed inspections or certifications and paying taxes on the vehicle based on the purchase price. (If you live in the state of California, for example, research changing vehicle ownership versus transferring a car title.)
See if You Have a Cosigner Release Option
Some car loans include conditions that remove the cosigner’s obligation after a specified number of on-time payments are made by the primary borrower.
If you’re unsure if this is an option, talk to the lender and check any loan documents you have. The cosigner release option is probably one of the easiest methods of taking a co-signers name off a car loan.
Pay Off the Loan
Another option to get a cosigner off a car loan is to pay off the loan either directly or by selling the car. If you sell the car, you can use the money to pay off the loan. With luck, the sale value of the car will be sufficient to cover the remainder of the loan.
Be aware that if you are the cosigner, and the primary borrower fails to make payments, you can likely seize the asset and sell it.
This article was originally published February 20, 2013, and has since been updated by another author.