Flickr user Marc Roberts

Before you go off to college, you’ll have to make many important decisions regarding your student loans. After you’ve determined what type of plan you’re going to move forward with, you’ll move on to basic, mechanical decisions about the plan’s implementation. How long will your repayment period be? Will you pursue loan forgiveness? And, perhaps most importantly, who will co-sign your loan?

Co-signing a loan is exactly what it sounds like: a legal process that splits responsibility for payment between multiple parties. There are many reasons to go this route, from the most basic (you don’t want to get someone else in legal trouble by missing a payment) to the more complex (accounting for tax deductions and credit scores). Basically, having someone co-sign a loan boils down to sharing the burden of payment between yourself and someone you trust in order to better complete the process on time.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, we’ll get down to the nuts and bolts: who can co-sign your student loan? The answer, in most cases, is almost anyone you’d trust to do so. For example, from one of the most popular loan sources, Wells Fargo, besides your parents, you can co-sign a loan with your permanent legal guardian, another family member, your significant other, or even a close friend. The only concrete stipulation is that they must be a permanent US resident, over eighteen years of age, and meet the same requirements you did to acquire the loan in the first place.

Depending on where your loan is coming from, your cosigner may receive many of the same privileges as you, if not all of them. Sallie Mae, one of the more popular lending houses, allows loan cosigners to “view billing statements and payment history, enroll in auto-debit…, make edits to personal information, review the student loans co-signed, [and] get your FICO score,” among other things. Likely, none of this will be an issue. If you’re comfortable enough to share financial responsibility with someone, it probably seems like a given that you’ll be sharing this information as well.

That being said, co-signing a loan with someone is, obviously, a major commitment. A general rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t sign an apartment lease with someone, or loan them your car for a long trip, that’s probably not a person you’d want to co-sign a loan with. If you choose the right person, though, many benefits can come your way. Your credit score will be joined, in a way, with your co-signer, making your chances of loan approval greater. Additionally, depending on the fine print of the plan you select, your interest rates may be lower, and you may be eligible for things like loan forgiveness.

Before you decide to co-sign a loan, remember to read up on the pros and cons of doing so, and make your expectations completely clear to your prospective co-signer. Whether they’re a parent, guardian, family member, significant other, or trusted friend, it’s always good to have this conversation up-front to avoid any problems later. Once you’re sure of the road you want to proceed down, sign your name on the dotted line next to the person you’ll share responsibility with, and you’ll be all set!

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