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Should I Cosign? Here Is the Truth About What God Says

“Do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge, one of those who is surety [ cosign ] for debts.” – Proverbs 22:26

If you’ve ever had a situation where a friend or family member asked you to cosign a loan, you know it’s a tough spot to be in. On the one hand, you want to help. But the idea of being responsible for someone’s debt has you a little squeamish.

cosignSay “No” to them and it seems like you don’t care.

Say “Yes” to them and you are opening yourself up to financial risk.

Maybe as you thought about what to do, you should have considered asking this question: “What does God have to say about it? Would He want me to cosign for this loan?” It may never have occurred to you to seek advice from a higher power.

The truth is God talks a lot about money in the Bible. He even has advice about cosigning which really surprised me when I found it. For anyone really, the real world application is sound. But especially for people of faith, His advice is worth listening to.

God’s Advice on Whether to Cosign

The actual word “cosign” isn’t in the Bible unless you are reading a very modern day translation. Instead the word used is “surety.” Surety refers to the act or promise to assume the responsibility for paying the debt of another person if that person doesn’t repay the loan. So surety = cosign in the Bible.

When you cosign, you become the guarantor of the loan. In other words, you become a responsible party on the loan. Usually this is needed when the lender (a bank) has doubts as to whether the borrower will repay the loan. They require a third party (cosigner) – usually someone with solid financial history – to legally enter the contract as a back up to the borrower. This helps the lender reduce their risk of not getting paid back.

In practice, it could look like this example: your son wants to buy a new car but has a small down payment, no credit history and little monthly income. The lender sees the risk in granting him a loan based on his limited financial resources. They will loan him the money though if you, as the parent, cosign for your son.

If you choose to cosign, you will have legally gone into debt. You will also be responsible for the loan. Granted, your son is the first person responsible. However, the lender will come to you if he doesn’t pay. That’s the financial risk you take.

But even greater is the relationship risk if your son chooses not to pay. You don’t want your family relationship divided and irrevocably damaged over money.

So what’s the Bible’s take on this?

God did not have great things to say about cosigning. God told King Solomon to write this in Proverbs 22:26:

“Do not be one of those who shakes hands in a pledge, one of those who is surety for debts.”

That’s pretty straightforward. It’s also pretty much a command. And I love the imagery of the phrase “one of those.” Reading between the lines, you can just see Solomon rolling his eyes as if to say, “Don’t be one of those unfortunate people who made a bad choice.”

I actually think King Solomon may have been burnt as a cosigner. The Bible does describe him as the wealthiest man who ever lived. Can’t you see people lining up at his door looking for some financial backing? Perhaps in a moment of weakness he caved, became surety for someone and it backfired. We may never know but it seems at least possible he could be speaking from experience here.

But the Bible is not done yet. It has a lot more to say about this with some specific examples to support God’s command.

But It’s a Friend, It’s Family

When you cosign, it puts you at risk in the present. It is the present risk you take that could have significant long-term consequences. That’s why God warned against it. In Proverbs 11:15 we read,

“He who is surety for a stranger will suffer, but one who hates being surety is secure.”

I’ll admit to being a bit confused when I first ran across this proverb. I can’t think of a single scenario where I would cosign a loan for someone I didn’t know. That makes no sense at all.

Evidently though, Solomon knew people that had done this (or maybe he himself had). He says those who choose to cosign for a stranger will suffer. If you avoid it though, you are secure.

“But,” you may be asking, “What if it’s for a friend, a really good friend who I’ve know for years? What is the risk in helping him or her out?”

God doesn’t think highly of this either. In Proverbs 17:18 we read,

“A man devoid of understanding shakes hands in a pledge, and becomes surety for his friend.”

Devoid of understanding is a great phrase. In other words, you are completely lacking in sense if you cosign even for a friend. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve known them or how close you are. It is to be avoided.

So no cosigning for a stranger. No cosigning for a friend. What about a family member? Did God say anything about that?

I can’t find a direct proverb that speaks to the family member issue. But there is an example that gives us a glimpse of the potential dangers if you choose to cosign for a family member. This can be seen in the Old Testament story of the life of Joseph.

Joseph, Judah and Benjamin

Through a series of remarkable events in Genesis 39-41, Joseph is taken from his home in Canaan as a boy and sold as a slave by his brothers into Egypt. He eventually rises to second in command of the kingdom because of his ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Joseph is put in charge of preparing Egypt for a massive seven-year famine that God revealed would soon come. The famine was so bad it affected the entire region.

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When Joseph’s family ran out of food in nearby Canaan, they went to Egypt. They came before Joseph to purchase grain, but they didn’t recognize him because so many years had passed since they were separated. Joseph questioned them thoroughly, at one point even accusing them of being spies.

To prove they were not spies Joseph told them they could not purchase grain on any future trips unless they brought their younger brother Benjamin with them. Benjamin hadn’t made the first trip because his father Jacob was afraid something would happen to him.

The food the brothers returned home with didn’t last forever. In Genesis 43, Joseph’s brothers are once again faced with going back to Egypt for more grain. They know they can’t go without Benjamin but Jacob is still reluctant. So in steps another brother Judah who says this to his father,

“Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die…I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.”

So Jacob allows them to go and Judah is on the hook for his brother Benjamin’s safety.

Judah’s Potential Cost

When they return, Joseph arranges a series of events to test his brothers. Benjamin is accused of stealing Joseph’s personal silver cup (Gen. 44). The punishment for such a crime is lifelong servitude to Joseph. Judah knows if they don’t return home without Benjamin, Jacob will be grief stricken to the point of death. So in Gen. 44:18-34, Judah desperately pleads on Benjamin’s behalf.

In a stunning and beautiful display of self-sacrifice, Judah explains to Joseph that he had become surety for Benjamin. He offers himself as a slave to Joseph forever so that Benjamin can go free. Do you see what just happened here? Judah’s decision to become surety for his brother Benjamin is about to cost him his freedom – for life!

In the end this story turns out positive. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and they have a tearful and loving reunion. Judah is not forced into lifelong servitude.

But the risk was still there for Judah. The outcome for Judah could have been drastically different. His surety pledge for a family member would have had great personal consequences.

Now, you probably won’t be forced into a life of actual servitude for being a cosigner. But as long as your name is on the loan, you are servant to the lender (see Proverbs 22:7 at link below).

Related Content: What Does the Bible Say About Debt? What Til You See

So in all three instances – stranger, friend or family member – we see the Bible exposing the great risk in choosing to cosign. But what if you already have? What can you do then?

What To Do If You Already Chose to Cosign

Maybe you didn’t know how God felt about cosigning or you chose to ignore the warnings and do it anyway. Now you are regretting the decision. Is there anything that can be done to get out of the mess you are in?

Again we turn to the book of Proverbs for our answer.

For those who have already chosen to cosign, here is the advice God gives through the writer Solomon in Proverbs 6:1-5,

“My son, if you become surety for your friend, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, you are snared by the words of your mouth; you are taken by the words of your mouth. So do this, my son, and deliver yourself; go and humble yourself; plead with your friend. Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.”

How do you get out of the debt you have trapped yourself in? The imagery is pretty clear. You do it quickly, without delay. Take care of it if you can before the day is out. Act like a gazelle fleeing its hunter. Run to your friend and plead with them to release you from the obligation.

Again, don’t wait. The situation isn’t going to improve and resolve itself without conflict.

You Can Only Hope

This verse offers hope for your situation. But if you read between the lines, you’ll notice it’s only a little hope. Even though you go to your friend and ask them to release you, they are under no obligation to do so. You chose to cosign and that is a legally binding contract. The odds are not in your favor of being released.

Your options are very limited. More than likely you will be stuck in your situation. Your best bet if you’ve already chosen to cosign would be to do one of the following:

  1. Have the borrower refinance and take your name off the loan. This would only be possible if enough time has passed that the borrower’s credit rating or financial situation had improved enough to the point where the bank would no longer require you to cosign.
  1. Find a replacement person to cosign. Good luck with this one. It seems disingenuous to explain to someone that you want off the loan but they should get on it.
  1. Convince (or force) the primary borrower to sell the piece of property (like a car, house) you cosigned for. If they did, you could then pay off the loan. If you choose the force route, you might end up in court incurring legal fees.
  1. Pay off the loan amount yourself and never cosign again. As much as you hate it, this is the most likely and quickest scenario to getting out from under your obligation.

The Cosign Conclusion

It’s pretty clear nothing can be gained by choosing to cosign. God clearly doesn’t think it’s a good idea. He spread warnings throughout the Bible about it. There are simply too many dangers involved and the risk is too great even with someone you know and trust.

In reality, we aren’t really helping someone when we cosign. We are helping them get things they shouldn’t have because they don’t have the financial status to do so. That’s why the bank requires a cosigner.

Perhaps it would help more if you chose to help them in other ways instead of cosigning. Maybe sit down with them and help them with their budgeting. Maybe get them some counseling or go with them to attend some financial education classes. Or if you really do want to help, just give them the money with no strings attached.

Any of those decisions would be better than to cosign. You just can’t afford to be one of those unfortunate surety people.

Leave a Comment or Answer a Questions Below: Have you ever chosen to cosign? If so, how did it turn out? Can you think of a situation where you’d ever cosign for a stranger? What’s the worst cosign story you’ve ever heard?

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  1. Wow thanks for sharing. I really needed to read these words today.

  2. Clayton Ahrens says

    Brian, this is a fantastic article. I couldn’t more agree with every point you made. God’s Word is true and it is so very good. One thing I noticed is that Proverbs is the only book of the Bible that recommends against co-signing. Yes, there’s an example in Genesis of Judah offering surety, but it’s not a command against it. Interestingly, Proverbs is one of the books of wisdom, containing principles that are generally true, rather than absolute commandments. So, while I think I could make an argument that co-signing isn’t absolutely prohibited by the Bible, I would argue that co-signing is NEVER a good idea. Proverbs admonishes against co-signing in chapters 6, 11 , 17, 20, & 22 (and I may have missed some). Since the Bible is God’s Word, and Proverbs strongly recommends against co-signing, it would be terribly foolish to co-sign. And, if I love God and defer to His ways rather than mine, I have to trust that His Word is wiser than any apparently good idea I might have about co-signing. Thank you for writing this well-thought-out, easy-to-read, comprehensive, well-organized, outstanding article. I especially appreciate how you balanced truth with grace and directness with kindness. Thank you for using your intellect and gifting to encourage the body of Christ.

    • Thanks for the kind words Clayton. There are too many warnings about this in the Bible for it to be a good idea. I’m sure there are situations where it has worked out for someone. But you are opening yourself to tremendous risk by cosigning. I would never do it under any circumstances. I’d rather just give someone the money for the thing they want than cosign for a loan.

  3. Ana Reigstad says

    What if co-signing for someone (in this case, my younger brother) so he could rent an apartment that has a 12 month lease? Thanks for the help!

    • There are lots of “what-if” scenarios. I would not cosign under any circumstances. You simply open yourself up to unnecessary risk.

  4. Miriam Kirkland says

    Thank you for this! The truth hurts sometimes but is so needed! God only warns us of this so we don’t hurt ourselves or others … it’s for our good and His glory!

    • Thanks for the comment Miriam. You are right…The warnings against cosigning are clearly there in Scripture. We have only ourselves to blame if we don’t listen to them.

  5. In the 70s my dad co-signed for my ex; months later, he walked out on me and our son, and daddy had to finish paying. Years later as a single parent, I was driving a clunker. Daddy was totally against co-signing ever again, but had mercy on me and co-signed for a car (I never asked him, he just said come on, let’s get you a car). When we signed the papers, the man turned them upside down and pointed to the lines for our signatures. I faithfully paid it off. Four yrs later, I was given a copy of the loan papers and saw that my dad’s signature (tho upside down) was on the line for the owner. So I never got credit for it. Right now, my sister’s son is manipulating her into co-signing for a truck. He claims she loves his brother more than him, and is on the way to her house, with the salesman, for her to sign the papers. Her older son is married, with a child, has a big house and a good-paying job. She’s so upset about it she’s actually sick. We’re begging her to say no. She’s retired with money problems of her own, but she’s afraid he’ll hate her. I read these scriptures to her and she seemed to calm down but is still waffling. We’re praying about it but I hate what he’s doing to her. She’s being bullied, worse, she knows it.

    • Everyone wants to justify co-signing for a family member because it’s family and it’s the “right thing to do.” It doesn’t matter if it’s family or not. The dangers of taking on debt still exist. And with family, the relationship tension it creates is even worse. It has time and time again divided families because someone decides not to honor or can’t pay their debt back. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope the truth of this message sticks with your sister and she doesn’t follow through with this.

  6. John Cummings says

    I don’t think this applies to family members even at the possibility of its great cost. Especially when reading Timothy 5:8.
    All the best, John

    • Hey John…It doesn’t matter if you think it applies to family members or not. The truth of the matter is taking on the debt opens you up to all kinds of financial and relationship risk you don’t need to create. Yes, I Tim. 5:8 says we are to provide for the members of our own household. However, it doesn’t say we are to enable bad behavior, reward incompetency with money, or “bless” people with things they can’t afford and don’t know how to manage. You can find stories everywhere of how this has damaged family relationships beyond repair (see Janice’s story in this thread). Cosign for a family member if you want, but it’s unwise, period. There are other ways to provide assistance for a family member than to cosign.

  7. Chris Mitchell says

    Our daughter (husband and three kids) have three weeks to relocate. They have been renting for 7 years and would like to start putting their money into something they can own. They have perfect credit ratings, and have no debt, however, their income is too low for a bank to give a loan for anything over $100,000-150,000. Outside of a miraculous provision of God, co-signing appears to be the only option. My husband and I are not in agreement concerning co-signing. With the time crunch and the lack of unity/peace, this is a heavy burden. Please respond. Thank you so much!

    • Hey Chris…thanks for sharing that situation. Put simply, I would not cosign in any situation. You are setting yourself up for potential trouble and tension with your daughter’s family. Your daughter and her family do not need to own a home until their income reaches a level that they can afford. They may want to not be renters and may feel like they are throwing their money away. But as soon as they move into a home, something big is going to happen that will require money. There are so many expenses that come with home ownership that renters do not have to deal with. Where will they get the money for those repairs? They will likely finance it on credit cards, thus starting a lifestyle of debt. And there absolutely is a chance that they cannot pay their mortgage and you get stuck with the bill. And the fact that you and your husband are not in agreement on the issue is a HUGE warning sign! This has potential to impact your relationship was well.

      Instead, I would get your daughter on a five-year plan to home ownership. I’m guessing they are in their early 30s? Home ownership by 40 is entirely doable. But they need to start setting some money aside for this. Get them on a monthly budget that allows for that to happen. And in the course of the five year period, see how we can get the family income up to a point that it’s more attractive to a bank.

      Finally, instead of cosigning, I would consider just giving them money for the house. No strings attached…no payback plan required. Just bless them with a gift. Now if they chose to pay you back that’s fine. But give them the money with no intentions of ever seeing it again. That path is a lot safer and cleaner than cosigning.

  8. Arlene ilgner says

    Owe no man nothing but to love Him Romans 13,8 give if you can no loans or guarantees

  9. We did not consign for our son to get a new car for the following reasons…
    1. He has a car that he owes money.
    2. He would be “upside down” on his credit if he added more car debt.
    3. The Bible says “Don’t consign.”
    My question to you is how do we handle his withdrawal from us? He is a good son, no doubt. He is feeling like we let him down. We did explain the risks involved. It has been about a month that he’s been withdrawing. Thank you for your insight.

    • That’s a really difficult situation Bell. It sounds like you exercised some “tough love” in this situation and your son didn’t like it. You and I know in the long run this is the best thing for him. He has to become responsible with his own money. And he can’t count on you to bail him out all the time. I would say the best thing you can do is keep the lines of communication open on your end. Don’t shut down just because he shut down. Continue to show him love and reach out to him in the normal ways that you would do anyway if money wasn’t involved. And don’t feel bad or guilty about your decision…it was a wise one. You are protecting yourself by not getting entangled in a loan situation with a family member.

  10. My daughter wants me to co-sign with the electric company. This is her first apartment and she has no credit or payment history with utility service. She does have the option of paying a deposit, but to avoid the deposit, I can co-sign and be on the account for 12 months. This is different than taking on debt, but still being responsible for it if she can’t pay. Is this situation looked at the same?

    • I’d say it’s still the same. You are co-signing and will be responsible if she doesn’t pay. Now it is only for a short amount of time – 12 months. And in all likelihood she won’t run up a big electric bill. So you won’t be out as much money as if you had co-signed for a car or mortgage. Instead of co-signing though, I’d just give her the deposit. That way she can pay it, get service and you are not opening yourself up for trouble.

  11. Proverbs 17:8 should be 17:18

  12. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    I still consider the capability of a person before I cosign. I used to cosign for anyone I know but after that experience when my colleague just left the company, I couldn’t help it but felt disgrace. There were lots of “should haves”. Now, I am very cautious in this because that signature can put myself in risk.

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