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Your Signature is Gold and Forever

Years ago I co-signed a school loan for my daughter's friend. He wanted to go to college, his parents weren't around and he had no one else to help him. I was doing a good deed. At least that's what I thought.

A year or so after, when leasing a car, the salesman said to me, "You know your credit is awful." Shocked, I asked why. He said that there was a loan on my credit that was not only past due but ballooned to far more than its original note. Both major red flags for credit bureaus. When I explored this news further, I discovered that this young man had dropped out of college, fallen behind on his payments, and deferred his loan causing the amount to go up and the interest rate to sky rocket.

I called Fannie May to plead my case...I had only signed on for the original loan amount, how could I be responsible for it now that it blossomed into something nearly double. "Look at what you signed," I was told. I was informed I was married to this loan until it was paid off--and if the amount kept growing through deferments, so did my commitment. Unfortunately, the kid I co-signed for wasn't in a position to pay, which meant unless I wanted this loan to sink me like a pair of concrete boots into the East River, I had no other option than to write a check and pay off the loan. Lesson learned.

Recently, I had something similar happen when I was asked to sign a document. I read it and didn't like what it said. The lawyer from the other side assured me the piece of the document I was uncomfortable with was rarely ever pursued in court. A hundred bells went off. Maybe a thousand. I returned the document and walked away from the deal. The hard lesson I learned many years ago taught me the one thing I will never forget--when you sign something, you own it. It doesn't matter what the intent is, it matters what is written in black and white.

This lesson may seem self-evident, but there are many times when we do something with good intentions, only to find out our signature ties us in ways we never imagined. A car lease, an employment agreement, a mortgage or school loan are just a few examples of contracts we sign throughout our life. Be smart when signing - because once you do, your signature (just like gold) is forever.

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