Pitfalls of co-signing for real estate loan

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Editor's note: Robert Bruss is temporarily away. The following column from Bruss' "Best of" collection first appeared Sunday, May 7, 2006. DEAR BOB: About five years ago, I co-signed a home mortgage for my niece so she could buy a condominium. All went well until about four months ago. She lost her job and refuses to take another job that doesn't pay as much. The result is she is now four months behind on her mortgage payments. Frankly, there is no way she can catch up, even if she does find her perfect "pie in the sky" job. However, I have a 723 FICO score, which I don't want to lose because good credit is important to me. Other than paying the missing mortgage payments, which now are about $14,000, how can I protect my good credit? --Fred G. DEAR FRED: You can't. You probably now realize it was a major mistake to co-sign on your niece's mortgage. I'm sure you wanted to help her and you trusted her to make the monthly payments. But when she defaulted, it not only hurt her credit ratin...