With nearly half the adult population of the UK suffering from some sort of debt, it’s safe to say that debt is part of our daily lives in this modern age. Figuring out all the different laws and legislations that surround debt and debt collection can be a real headache though. 

Out of the many questions that get asked about debt, debt collectors and debt collection, there’s one question that crops up surprisingly often – can you be responsible for someone else’s debt? We take a look at the answer to this question, and give you a guide into dealing with it.

Responsibility for someone else’s debt

Lots of people might worry that getting married, entering into a long term relationship, or the death of a spouse, will mean that they are then shouldered with any debts that are still unpaid. If you’re worried about this yourself, you can relax – this isn’t the case. 

It’s worth being aware of some of the situations where you agree to share or to take on all the responsibility for someone else’s debt though. If you’re being hassled by creditors demanding you pay someone else’s debt, you should make sure you check what your obligations are.

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Instances when you can be responsible for someone else’s debt

There are a few instances when you might be responsible for someone else’s debt, and it isn’t simply limited to one debt ‘type’ either. You can be responsible for someone’s credit card debt, loan debt, or another sort of debt for the following reasons:

You have a joint account

If you and your partner, or another person, have opened a joint bank account, or a joint credit account, you will both share the responsibility for any debt incurred. It doesn’t matter as to who contributed to the debt – as you share the account, you’ll both be responsible. 

This will continue even after you have separated or divorced the person you might have opened the joint account with. If your partner or ex-partner has incurred debts on your shared account, and has reduced or stopped payment on these debts, the creditor will be able to pursue you for payment. Both of your credit scores will be affected by this as well.

You opened an account for someone else in your name

While it is inadvisable to sign up for a credit card or a loan or anything else that involves finances using your own personal details, when the account itself will be used by someone else, sometimes it is a necessity. 

When this happens, the person you have opened the account for has no legal obligation to keep up with repayments, and you’ll be solely responsible for someone else’s debt.

You signed a guarantor agreement

This is another occasionally inadvisable agreement to sign, but occasionally circumstances necessitate it. If you have signed a guarantor agreement, whether it is for a rental situation for someone else, a credit card, or a loan, you will be agreeing with the lender of the money that any debt incurred will be transferred to you and will become your responsibility.

If the person you are the guarantor for falls behind on payments, you will start to receive letters about this. Make sure you don’t ignore these letters, as you could end up making matters worse for yourself and the other person if you do. 

Information about your responsibility for someone else’s debt

You may be now wondering whether or not one of those instances applies to you. If you’re not sure whether you signed as a guarantor or whether you are a joint account holder, you should get in touch with the lender directly. 

If the lender can prove that the account bears your signature then you will be responsible for the debt. You could also end up being responsible for someone else’s debt if you made a written or verbal agreement to pay someone’s debt for them. 

Signatures on agreements

If your signature is not present, and no other agreement was made, you won’t be responsible for the debt – your relationship to the other person is irrelevant if you’re signature or proof of agreement is not forthcoming. 

Even if you yourself used the account as an additional card holder, if your signature or other agreement is missing, you will not be responsible for someone else’s debt.

Deceased persons – can you be responsible for their debt?

Another frequently-asked question is whether you can be responsible for someone else’s debt even when that person is deceased. If someone dies with outstanding debts to their name, the debt is usually settled using assets from their own estate. If this is not enough to cover the whole amount, the debt is usually written off.

If their creditor contacts you about their outstanding debt, despite settling a sizeable wedge from their estate, you do not have to pay them. If, however, you signed as a guarantor for their credit card, for example, and there are still outstanding payments on that, you will then be responsible for the debt. This also happens on joint accounts or if you co-signed any agreements on anything debt related.

Final thoughts

So that’s the quick answer and a brief guide to the instances when you can be responsible for someone else’s debt. It’s very important to check all the information you can find regarding whether or not you might be a guarantor or otherwise, as a creditor may make baseless claims as to you owing them money on behalf of someone else.

If the creditor refuses to back down, even after you have presented the necessary information that you are not responsible for someone else’s debt, you can make a complaint about them. 

Complaints procedure

Debt collectors and creditors now are required to follow quite strict rules in their dealings with customers, and if they’re found to be in breach of these rules, they can face steep fines. 

To complain about their conduct, you should reach out to them first of all, detailing the nature of your complaint. If they are not forthcoming about placating you, you should escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, detailing why you are making this complaint.

About the author

Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson is a financial services expert, with over 10 years’ experience in the industry, including 6 years in FCA regulated companies. Read more
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