I cosigned my boyfriend’s mortgage, but I’m not on the deed. I didn’t want to marry again after a costly divorce. How do I protect myself?

Dear Quentin,

I went through a terrible divorce 15 years ago. I will finally be done paying off my ex-husband in July. My divorce was so costly, I have never remarried.

My boyfriend of 14 years was having financial problems and needed to refinance his house to pay off his debt. He couldn’t get approved without a cosigner. His brother wouldn’t cosign his home loan for him, so I stepped up and cosigned it. 

He put me in his will so the house goes to me in the event that he passes. I would be responsible for paying off the house, and any extra money would go to his brother. I am not on the deed for the house. Would this make it messy if he passes?

He was planning on refinancing once his income goes up, but now with interest rates so high, I don’t think that is going to happen. I have three children that I pay for, so I need to make sure that I am protecting myself.

Can you please advise me?

Mother, Ex-wife & Girlfriend

“Ironically, it would have probably made more sense to marry this man before cosigning on his mortgage; if he purchased the home during your marriage, it would likely have been deemed community/marital property.”

MarketWatch illustration

Dear MEG,

Get thee on the deed. Failing that…

The homeowner benefits from being a cosigner. It’s a one-way street. Or, given that it seems his brother will also be named in his will, it’s a three-way street. So you are responsible for his mortgage, and his brother gets 30% or 50% of the house? Your boyfriend holds all the cards. With you as cosigner, he buys a house and, presumably, snags a better interest rate. What do you get out of this? This is a question that you need to answer. It may help prevent you from putting other people’s wishes before your own in the future.

You boyfriend’s brother made a smart decision. This is one of those times I wish the question was, “Should I cosign my boyfriend’s mortgage?” My answer would have been no, but that’s a moot point now. Best-case scenario: Your boyfriend continues to pay off his loan and, in time, can refinance at a lower rate when rates eventually decline. Then you can ask him to remove you from the loan. I don’t recommend cosigning a loan without being on the deed — you are taking on the responsibility of paying off the loan with none of the ownership rights. 

Parents sometimes do it for their children, usually due to having a higher income and credit score. But if your relationship with your boyfriend goes south, or he falls on hard times, you could end up being on the hook for the monthly payments, including insurance and maintenance. If that happened, what would you do? Pay off a loan on a house that belongs to someone else for the next 30 years? Or allow the house to fall into foreclosure and take the hit to your credit score, assuming there will be enough equity to pay off the loan?

There are times I have said yes to people cosigning loans. This past summer, this woman wrote to me to ask whether she should cosign an $11,000 student loan for her sister. But I said yes because they were both caregivers to their mother before she passed away from cancer, and that experience had led her sister to become a nurse. I said yes because there was a 10-year age difference, and because she considered herself a “second mother” to her younger sibling, and because she was ultimately rewarding her sister for her commitment and work ethic, getting her over the finish line.

Your boyfriend can change his will unilaterally. You cannot do the same thing with this loan. You did not want to get married again because you were — I presume — reluctant to merge your finances with another man, particularly after being stung by your divorce. Ironically, it would probably have made more sense to marry this man before cosigning on his mortgage; if he purchased the home during your marriage, it would likely have been deemed community or marital property. As it stands, the house belongs solely to your boyfriend of 14 years.

If someone is having financial problems and needs to pay off debt, a bank will refuse to lend them money because they are deemed too high a risk. There’s a reason your boyfriend got into financial trouble, but now it has become your concern — because, as we have been told many times, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So the best advice I have for you? Hang tight and support him in every way you can. At the first available opportunity, encourage him to refinance, and assure him you will be there to provide moral support.

The other part of this equation is you. You have just been released from your 15-year financial obligation to your ex-husband. What made you enter another financial obligation with your boyfriend? It’s not your job to save people. It’s not your job to prove your love by cosigning a mortgage. It’s not your job to show that you’re a good person or a nice person by acquiescing to your boyfriend’s request. You can say no and still be a good partner. You can still say no and look in the mirror and be proud of what you see. It’s OK to put your needs first.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

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Previous columns by Quentin Fottrell:

I’m 35 and mortgage-free. My boyfriend, 55, wants me to move into his house and help pay off his mortgage. What should I do?

My mother is guarantor on my brother’s mortgage — using her home as collateral. What happens if she dies?

‘I’ve been living inside a silent divorce’: I want a ‘kitchen-table’ separation from my husband without lawyers. Is that a good idea?

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