Now that we are in recovery (hopefully) from the great banking flu of 2008-2009, it has become clear that doing business with banks has changed quite a bit. Gone are the days of quick loan approvals and business loans secured only by the underlying business. Even more than ever, banks now look for personal guarantees from well-heeled individuals to secure a business loan, and if you are the guarantor, you need to consider several details.
For any of you who needs a refresher on the basics of a personal guarantee, refer to my July 2009 newsletter. The first thing you need to understand is that most guarantees are a guarantee of payment not collection. This means that if there is a loan default the bank can show up at your door and demand payment; it doesn’t have to try to collect from the business, or other guarantors, or even foreclose on property first. Banks are also regularly requiring guarantors to pledge liquid assets (e.g. a marketable securities account) as security for the guarantee. This makes it even easier for the bank to recover from the guarantor immediately on default. It also means that as a guarantor you will be required to tie up these liquid assets often for the full duration of the loan.
If you have been asked to sign a guarantee, there are several things to watch out for. How long is the guarantee? Usually it will run for the duration of the loan but the guarantee will likely provide that the loan (and the guarantee) can be extended by the business without your approval. The business can likely also agree to a higher interest rate or make other changes in the loan without your approval. Most importantly, is the guarantee limited to a specific amount? Look carefully….it probably isn’t and that could expose you to a lot more liability than you expect. If you have other deposit accounts with the bank, the guarantee will often provide that the bank can hold those accounts if it needs to collect from you. The bank may be willing to negotiate some or all of these items, so make sure you ask and by all means have your legal counsel review the document before you sign. Also it is very important that you stay informed about how the business is doing and whether it maintains the loan in good standing; the bank is not obligated to let you know if the loan falls behind.
Many loan guarantees involve several individual guarantors which helps share the pain if the bank ever enforces the guarantee. However the bank is usually not required to collect from all guarantors; if one guarantor has sufficient collectible assets the bank can pursue that person alone. For this reason, many guarantors enter into an indemnity agreement to ensure that if one guarantor is required to pay more than their fair share of a loan, then all the other guarantors will reimburse them. If you are in a transaction with several guarantors, you should also consider their personal assets and make sure you can recover from them if you get stuck paying the bank. For example, if they have much of their wealth in retirement assets or joint real estate with their spouse, you may have a difficult time collecting on the indemnity.
This all reminds me of the old poker saying….if you cant’s tell who the sucker is at the poker table, it is probably you. Don’t be the sucker when it comes to your guarantee.