The latest in-vogue dating trend is apparently asking your potential dates what their credit score is. And I don’t mean the financial conversations that everyone should have before you move into serious relationship territory and really intertwine your lives. I’m literally talking about first date banter. At least that’s what this article in the New York Times is saying.
As she nibbled on strawberry shortcake, Jessica LaShawn, a flight attendant from Chicago, tried not to get ahead of herself and imagine this first date turning into another and another, and maybe, at some point, a glimmering diamond ring and happily ever after.She simply couldn’t help it, though. After all, he was tall, from a religious family, raised by his grandparents just as she was, worked in finance and even had great teeth.
Her musings were suddenly interrupted when her date asked a decidedly unromantic question: “What’s your credit score?”
OK. Let me just say the I would have been a little more than offended if at any time during a first date I got asked about my credit score. And my credit is outstanding. Can’t we get through the getting-to-know-you, getting-to-like-you steps before we try a deep dive into relationship territory? Jesus, I don’t even know if I actually like spending time with you yet. At any moment my best friend is going to call with a fake emergency in case you exhibit any sociopathic tendencies or even worse, are a Red Sox fan. Can’t I at least learn what types of novels you like to read first? Are you even following my blog? It’s bad enough that employers are checking people’s credit histories before making hiring decisions, but dating takes the cake. According to this Times article, there are no less than two dating sites that allow members to check the credit scores of their potential mates. WTF!
I really want to make a profile on the “Good credit is sexy” site creditscoredating.com just to have a little fun. Yes, I have a criminal record, a serious under bite and will try to sleep with your sister but 788 is the lowest of my three scores, ladies. Call me.
Since bad credit is now societal shorthand for bad people who should be avoided, let’s get into what bad credit actually means. Your credit score is derived by way of arcane financial sorcery (the pros would say “complicated algorithms”) based on harebrained assumptions about what “creditworthiness” ought to mean — according to people who clearly have trouble keeping up a consistent narrative in their minds. Most people know that paying your bills on time and keeping your revolving credit lines low will lead to better a better credit score. But what’s totally counterintuitive is that having debt is actually a good thing. So long as you’re paying it off, anyway. But don’t stop there — you also need to understand that different types of accounts are weighted differently. And each of the three credit reporting bureaus also gives different weights to certain factors. There seems to be nothing in the way of specifics available on how much will your rating suffer for missing a payment for example, vs. how much your score will go up if you pay off one of your long-standing accounts. Honestly I think they just make this shit up as they go along.
Here’s the thing to remember about divining the credit score mystery: Anyone can have bad credit. All you need is a little bad luck. Spend enough time unemployed and you could easily miss a payment on one or two of your credit cards or other loans. Maybe you (or a dependent family member) got terribly ill and medical expenses have forced you into bankruptcy. According to the American Journal of Medicine, almost two-thirds of all bankruptcies are at least partially attributed to medical expenses. Or maybe you haven’t really built up your credit yet. No credit history is the same as a bad credit history in terms of your score.
In short, the rules are unclear, counterintuitive and inconsistent from bureau to bureau; the results are very prone to life events outside of your control, and they actually penalize people who do not have enough existing debt or lines of credit to suit the powers that be. So if you were raised to try to avoid debt whenever possible, you could have a great job, pay all your bills on time and still have a terrible score. With that in mind, it’s more than slightly disturbing that people are asking about credit scores for a clue into a person’s “datability” or character — especially when that person’s life history, basic financial values and current circumstances are still mostly unknown.
Credit scores are important to know because of the many other life events they impact — getting loans for major purchases, getting hired at certain companies, etc. On a more basic level, sharing financial values and being able to be open and honest about financial plans, priorities and decisions is incredibly important to a healthy long-term relationship. But for couples in the first stages of dating, these things won’t come into question until way down the line. Neither party’s credit scores will matter in any significant way for many months or years — even assuming this brand-new proto-couple stays together for that long. Up front, if you’re really going to get nosy, a history of drug addiction, mental imbalance or serious criminal records are much better questions to ask as you’re getting to know your new potential SO (ProTip: those questions will also go over like a lead balloon on the first date, and rightfully so). But people aren’t even getting to know one another. Ms. LaShawn for example, never got the chance.
Ms. LaShawn, the flight attendant from Chicago, said that she was still shocked that her credit score could sabotage a potentially great date. She had accumulated credit card debt and sporadically fallen behind on bills, and explained that she wasn’t sure of her credit score, but was positive that it wasn’t very good.
Days after her failed date, she said, she got an apologetic text message. Her date reiterated that the problem “wasn’t me, it was my credit score.”
What. A. Load. There are numerous reasons to stop dating someone. But I don’t think a bad credit score should be on the list. Bad credit scores aren’t even permanent. They can be worked on. If you’re in a committed relationship and your SO’s credit score is in the dumps and they refuse to work on it, your problem is still not the stupid credit score — your problem is mismatched financial values and priorities. Most sane people know this. So in that spirit, let’s turn this around and place the scrutiny where it belongs: on people who are so shallow and socially lazy that they’d rather let Experian be the final judge of your character and compatibility than get to know you by talking with you like an actual human being.
Final note on premarital financial craziness — the same Times piece profiled another young woman whose boyfriend is claiming that he can’t marry her until she can “significantly” pay down her six-figure student loans. Although actual debt is a separate and more substantial issue than pure, vaprous credit scores alone, this still smells like cowpie to me.
Lauren Dollard, a 26-year-old assistant at a nonprofit in Houston, said her low credit score had helped to stall her romantic plans. Her boyfriend is wary of marrying her until she can significantly pay down the more than $150,000 she owes in student loans and bolster her credit score, she said.
A lot of educated young people have very high student loans right now. And what counts as “significant”? Mark my words ladies, this will be the new moving target that commitophobic boyfriends nationwide will pull out when they need to stall the marriage talks for another year. If he understands her financial position now (mid-20’s, nonprofit sector job, high loans) and has even rudimentary math skills, he understands that any significant reduction in that loan is going to take a long time. Dude — either get real, sit down, do some numbers and figure out what “significant” means, how long it’s realistically going to take and whether you’re both able and willing to wait that long to take the plunge, or STFU and let this nice girl go find someone who’s willing to plan for the future with her, without all the condescending stick/carrot crap.
The moral of the story: If someone asks about your credit score ridiculously early into a relationship, or later on refuses to marry you until you significantly pay down your debt, say it with me: STOP FUCKING THAT GUY. His common-sense credit clearly sucks.