Credit Score: The New Dating Litmus?
Lenders, landlords and even some employers look closely at your credit history before deciding whether to enter a relationship with you — so why would a potential dating partner feel any differently?
How you handle your money says a lot about you: how dependable you are, and how organized. Personally, I could overlook the errors of someone who racked up a bit of debt in their 20’s, as they learned the financial ropes of living on their own, particularly because I learned these lessons the hard way myself. But to find out on a first date that someone hadn’t been able to responsibly wrangle their finances by the time they hit their mid-30’s? Call me cold – but it’d make me think twice about going on a second date.
Apparently, I’m not alone. When The New York Times interviewed more than 50 daters under 40 from around the country, they found that many of them regarded a good credit score as a prerequisite for a good date. And according to a survey by MyFico.com, when asked what personal traits have helped sustain their relationships, respondents said they’re twice as likely to choose financial responsibility (22%), over sexual compatibility (10%). The same poll also found that learning about a potential partner’s sense of humor, job, and credit history ranked above finding out about their family, interest in children, education, clean driving record, or even kissing-compatibility.
Now, let’s not get it twisted: we’re not talking how much money a person makes, what car they drive, or even their willingness to spring for a blow-out romantic gesture. Nor am I downplaying all the RIGHT reasons to date someone (I really shouldn’t have to list these). This is simply about evaluating a person’s ability to live within their means, and keep tabs on their own fiscal health. To those navigating the choppy waters of the dating pool these days, a simple financial indicator like a credit score could help weed out the riff-raff. It might even rank up there with personal values, or physical health. As the NY Times reported:
“Credit scores are like the dating equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease test,’ said Manisha Thakor, the founder and chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management, a financial advisory firm. ‘”It’s a shorthand way to get a sense of someone’s financial past the same way an S.T.D. test gives some information about a person’s sexual past.”
This is because much like an STD, your partner’s sordid financial history could come back to bite: if the relationship leads to marriage, your future spouses’ credit problems will become your own. Though you may not be responsible for paying off their debt, you’ll be negatively affected when it comes time to jointly apply for those goals most couples strive for: a home loan or a new car. And so rather than fall for someone who will only bring you down financially, isn’t it better to nip any potential obstacles in the bud before your love interests’ poor saving and spending habits start rubbing off on you? For those being honest with themselves about their true desired qualities in a partnership…. the writing’s probably already on the wall.
Probing these sorts of questions earlier rather than later not only seems pressing, it’s a rising trend. There are even online dating sites dedicated to matching up like-minded, creditworthy people.
As reported on ABCnews.com, Diane Mapes, author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World, says it’s not surprising that people are seeking romantic partners with a good work ethic, and who aren’t lazy. The difference is that now, people are more willing to talk about it.
“Right now everybody and their brother is out of work, or losing a job or knows someone who is out of work. The topic is in the air…” Mapes said. “As the screws tighten financially on all of us, these [issues] come up more.”
So how do you broach a conversation like this with a new love interest? If this once-taboo topic is now fair game, how do you make the right decision for your relationship AND your financial well-being — without coming across as a materialistic maniac?
Not on a First Date (or Even the Third)
While there’s something to be said for heading off disaster before it strikes, I think the real disaster would be to judge someone (based solely on a rather abstract, clinical number) before you get to know them and understand the context. Assume your date will get offended — or at the very least think it’s a little petty — to inquire about their personal finances before it’s clear you’re connecting on other levels. That said…
Use Other Clues
If the relationship seems like it has potential, money matters that do come up should be fair game for analysis. Without having to come right out and ask a person’s credit score, perhaps there’s other financial red flags to pay attention to like whether or not a person has health insurance, has ever been evicted from a home or an apartment, if they have debt collectors calling their home, etc. Of course, as things get more serious and there’s talk of moving in together, now it’s really time for a larger discussion, one with full-disclosure. But before you do…
Know What You’re Talking About
If you’re going to have the conversation, at least know what it all means: a credit score is a complex calculation of your debts and payment history, often called your “FICO score” (so named because the major credit bureaus use a software developed by Fair Isaac and Company). FICO scores are provided by the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. A low score can keep you from getting a loan, or could be used as a justification for charging you a higher interest rate. Anything above 750 is considered stellar and anything below 660 is considered a big, red flag.
Is There More to the Story?
Before you judge too harshly, understand that credit scores can get blemished over the slightest error, and because each credit bureau calculates a different FICO score, hidden “trouble spots” could exist that you (or your partner) didn’t even know about. Even for someone who’s never been late on a payment, if there was a billing error in the past that went unnoticed, it could be causing the score to suffer. If you learn your partner has a tarnished credit record and doesn’t know how it happened, encourage them to dig into the reasons why so they can get it fixed. Order a free copy of the credit report, one from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, at annualcreditreport.com. This way you’ll see first hand if they are any false reports or mistakes.
Move to Improve
Perhaps most importantly, know that a poor FICO score doen’t have to be a game-changer. There are steps you or a partner can take to remedy bad credit. First, know that you actually have to use credit, to build credit. Every so often, make sure to use your credit card(s) and then try to pay down the balance immediately. Never charge more than 30% of your credit limit (as your debt-to-credit ratio is a key variable in calculating your score, the lower the ratio the better), and keep tabs on your score by ordering a three-in-one credit report by contacting TransUnion. If you know your score needs some boosting, try myFICO.com’s Fitness Challenge or, visit Debtadvice.org (they can also be reached at 800-288-2227).
Photo Credit courtesy of: pixabay.com/photo/2012/04/24/17/56