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Can A Creditor Pursue a Debtor’s Co-Signor After Discharge?

co-signorMany people have loans or debts where a friend or relative has guaranteed or co-signed a loan. In these situations, individuals considering filing for Bankruptcy are often concerned whether any discharge of indebtedness would absolve co-signors of their responsibility for the debt.

Generally, Bankruptcy discharge does not absolve a co-signor or guarantor of the responsibility to pay a creditor for any deficiency owed by the party who filed for Bankruptcy.[1] Creditors can still go after a co-signor for any unpaid balance after a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy discharge. Similarly, under a Chapter 13 repayment plan, at the conclusion of the payment plan, a creditor can still go after a co-signor for the difference between the amount paid under the payment plan and the original contract amount of the debt (the “deficiency”).[2]

A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy filing stays actions by creditor against co-signors during the pendency of the Bankruptcy case,[3] but this is not the case in a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that “[g]enerally, discharge of the principal debtor in bankruptcy will not discharge the liabilities of co-debtors or guarantors.”[4] Explaining that “[t]he bankruptcy court ‘has no power to discharge the liabilities of a bankrupt’s guarantor,” the court clarified that “‘[t]he bankruptcy court can affect only the relationships of debtors and creditor. It has no power to affect the obligations of guarantors.’”[5]

The New York Appellate Division further clarified that “a defendant’s liability as a guarantor generally is not impaired by the discharge of a principal’s obligation in a bankruptcy proceeding and, thus, plaintiff may seek recovery from defendant notwithstanding [the debtor’s] bankruptcy petition.”[6]

The exact language of the agreement in which the co-signor or guarantor took on the obligation is important. If the co-signor only assumed the obligation to pay the debtor’s indebtedness where the debtor himself was still obligated to pay the loan, then the debtor’s discharge would probably absolve the co-signor of her obligation to guarantee the loan as well, pursuant to the terms of that original guarantee. But where the guarantee never says that the co-signor’s obligation is contingent on the primary party’s obligation, or where it states explicitly that the co-signor is obligated regardless of any discharge of the primary party’s indebtedness, the creditor can still go after the co-signor for any amount still due.[7]

Based on these rules, it is imperative that anyone who would like to help out a business associate, family member, or friend by co-signing a loan or guarantee should carefully consider whether they are willing and able to pay that person’s debt off if the person who asks for help becomes unable to fulfill his financial obligations or files for Bankruptcy.

Picture courtesy of e-how.com


[1] 11 U.S.C. § 524(e).

[2] Id.

[3] 11 U.S.C. § 1301(a), (c).

[4] Underhill v. Royal, 769 F.2d 1426, 1432 (9th Cir. 1985), rev’d on other grounds 494 U.S. 56, 64 (1990).

[5] Underhill, at id. (citations omitted).

[6] Culver v. Parsons, 777 N.Y.S.2d 536, 538 (N.Y. App. Div. 2004).

[7] First National Bank of Scotia v. Proem-a-Net Economics Corp., 652 N.Y.S.2d 405, 407 (N.Y. App. Div. 1997).

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