Can a Lender Force a Spouse to Sign a Loan or Guarantee?

Institutional lenders understand well Florida’s tenants by entireties protection, and they understand that they may not be able to enforce promissory notes against a married borrower unless the note is signed by both the borrower and his spouse. For this reason, most lenders will insist on joint signatures to loans or guarantees of business loans where a single spouse is the primary loan applicant.

A common example is a husband who runs and owns a business applies for a commercial loan, and the bank approves the loan conditional upon the wife co-signing a guarantee even though the wife has nothing to do with the business and has no independent income.

A recent Florida appellate case held that banks’s demand for joint signatures on loans or guarantees may be illegal when the loan is adequately supported by the applicant’s spouse’s income and credit score. The court suggested that a bank’s request for the spouse’s signature when the bank is simply trying to defeat entireties ownership may be in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15. U.S.C 1691.

The EOCA states in part that a creditor shall not require the signature of an applicant’s spouse on any credit instrument if the applicant by himself qualifies under the creditor’s standards of creditworthiness.  The law applies to commercial loans as well as consumer loans. The ECOa provides that an applicant who incurs a violation of the Act may recover actual damages, attorneys fees, and punitive damages. There is a two-year statute of limitation.

In this particular case, a lender tried to sue a husband and wife jointly on a jointly executed guarantee of a commercial loan. The wife raised an affirmative defense as to her own liability based upon an alleged EOCA violation in requiring her joint signature on the loan guarantee. The Florida court said that the wife raised a legitimate affirmative defense even though the statute of limitations had expired. A violation of the Act as to the wife will not affect the validity of the husband’s guarantee.  Chen v. Whitney National Bank, 65 So 3d. 1170.

According to this case, businessmen who are required to obtain their spouses’ signatures on business loans may have an immediate cause of action against their lenders for ECOA violations. Bankruptcy debtors may assert the same theory as adversary proceeding to protect their assets or offset lenders’ claims.

Jon Alper

About the Author

I’m a nationally recognized attorney specializing in asset protection planning. I graduated with honors from the University of Florida Law School and have practiced law for almost 50 years.

I have been recognized as a legal expert by media outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I have helped thousands of clients protect their assets from creditors.