Swift Justice: Car payments, cable bills and co-signing

Dear Jackie,

While living with my boyfriend in Iowa for two years, I helped pay for a sports car he purchased. He promised me at the time that if we ever broke up, he would make sure to pay me for all of the payments I made towards the car. I have copies of every payment I made, with "1/2 payment of toy" in the memo on each check. Of course, I have not gotten any money from him since I left Iowa. Can I take him to small claims court and try to get some of my money back from him? What are my chances of winning? I would have to pay a filing fee and return to Iowa to do so and am just wondering if it is worth it. I am pursuing $2,500. Thanks for any advice you can give me. -- Doreen from Oconto Falls, Wis.

Hi, Doreen,

Doreen, did you receive any of those promises in writing? If not, then you have purchased him a car. I don't believe you will succeed against him. So you should save the filing fee and the costs of travel to Iowa and consider this a life lesson learned. In the future, if a boyfriend wants to borrow money, just say no. If you cannot say no, then make sure you get something in writing. The problem is that if he doesn't pay, you may not be able to get any money from him, even with a promissory note.

Dear Jackie,

I bought my house a year ago, during which time my mother was living with me. When she moved in, she signed up for a cable satellite account in my name. After a few months, my mother decided to move out of state to Oklahoma. When she moved, she said she would transfer the account to her name. I then signed up for cable through our local cable company. I recently found out that my mother never changed the name on the account and has been using all of my information. I just received a bill for over $300 that was sent to collections. Is there anything I can do to get this off of my credit? Am I obligated to pay the bill? She has a history of doing this as my grandmother just found out that my mother also had a gas bill in her name and my grandmother is currently having the same problem but with a much bigger bill. Please advise and thank you for your time. -- Stacey from Wamego, Kansas

Hi, Stacey,

I'm sorry to hear that you are going through this with your mother. Money matters with family are always very difficult. Since mom opened the account in your name, you are stuck with the bill. You will need to contact the big credit reporting agencies and make a personal statement to explain the situation. You should order a copy of your credit report from Experian, Transunion and Equifax. You are eligible to obtain a free credit report every 12 months. Write and tell them your situation. You may be able to do some of this online and be sure to keep copies of your statements and all documentation. They most likely won't remove the negative marks from your credit score, but they can include your personal statement explaining the circumstances surrounding this particular event. Good luck!

Dear Jackie,

If I co-signed for a friend's vehicle, what legal rights do I have to the car? The vehicle has been repossessed once, and they gave it back because my friend came up with the amount they needed at the time. Shortly thereafter, the car company started calling me again asking for payment and looking for the vehicle. They stated they would sue me in court. I have not seen the person or the vehicle in several years. I have no idea where the person lives or how to obtain any of their contact information. My credit is completely ruined. What can I do? -- Derek from Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Hi, Derek,

Have you made any payments for the car? Is the title in your friend's name? There isn't much you can do. You legally obligated yourself by co-signing for this car. They can sue you. You can do your best to explain to the judge what has happened, but by co-signing, you entered into a binding contract for payment. You might try negotiating some sort of reduced payment plan with the financing company. Doesn't hurt to try.

(Jackie Glass is a lawyer and former district court judge from Las Vegas, Nev., who is the new host of CBS's daytime legal affairs program, "Swift Justice With Jackie Glass." Visit http://www.SwiftJustice.com for more information, and submit your legal questions to Jackie by emailing askjudgejackie@gmail.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @theJudgeGlass.)

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