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A bad credit score could be a romantic turn-off

Uninterested woman on a date | Li Kim Goh/E+/Getty Images
Uninterested woman on a date | Li Kim Goh/E+/Getty Images

Li Kim Goh/E+/Getty Images

Cary Carbonaro regrets not talking to her now ex-husband about money before they married. Had she questioned him, she may have learned sooner how his unpaid student loan debt had damaged his credit.

"And the ironic part is I know better," she says.

Carbonaro is a New York City-based CFP professional and author of "The Money Queen's Guide: For Women Who Want to Build Wealth and Banish Fear."

"When you're getting together with somebody -- married or sharing bills -- you're not only combining lives, you're combining finances," Carbonaro says. "You have to sit down and show each other everything."

FREE TOOL: Check your credit score for free today with myBankrate.

A new Bankrate survey found nearly 4 in 10 adults say knowing someone's credit score would affect their willingness to date that person. It's a more important factor for women: 43% of women say learning a person's score would have either a major or minor impact on their dating interest, while just 32% of men say the same, according to the latest Bankrate Money Pulse survey.

If you learn that the person you're dating has a wildly different credit score than you, that doesn't necessarily mean the relationship won't work.

Looking at education levels, 47% of college graduates say knowing a credit score would have either a major or minor impact, versus just 29% of those with a high school education or less.

The survey was conducted April 14-17, 2016, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and included responses from 1,000 adults living in the continental United States. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

What you should know

When you ask someone to disclose their credit score, what you're really trying to learn is how they manage their money, says Pam Friedman, CFP professional and partner in Silicon Hills Wealth Management in Austin, Texas.

But that 3-digit number doesn't necessarily tell the whole story. Someone with a low credit score may be irresponsible with money, or may be carrying a large, unexpected medical debt and pay all other bills on time.

"Knowing someone's score is important, but it's much more important to know someone's attitudes toward money," says Friedman, author of the book "I Now Pronounce You Financially Fit: How to Protect Your Money in Marriage and Divorce."

When to have the talk

Asking someone to disclose their credit score before the first date may be a bit extreme, but April Masini, a New York City-based relationship and etiquette expert, says you should discuss scores within the first 3 months of dating, while you're learning about the other person and deciding whether to continue seeing him or her.

"Knowing whether you have compatible financial outlooks and practices is part of that learning curve," says Masini, author of the Ask April advice column.

Other financial experts say you can wait to discuss credit scores until you're planning to invest in property together or are considering marriage.

"I would probably think that discussion would happen in a very normal situation before wedding bells, before a proposal," says Gina McKague, president and founder of McKague Financial in Livonia, Michigan. "I wouldn't say on a first date would be appropriate."

Mind your own credit

If you plan to ask the person you're dating about his or her credit history, you should be prepared to discuss your own. About half of American adults (46%) indicate they've checked their credit score within the past year, according to our survey. That figure is unchanged from a year ago when we last asked the question.

Still, 24% of adults say they have never checked their credit score, roughly the same percentage as in 2015. Millennials are the age group least likely to have checked their credit score. But adults age 18-29 showed some improvement over 2015.

Last year, 38% of the youngest respondents said they had never checked their credit score, while this year it's 33%.

FREE TOOL: Haven't checked your credit report in a while? Check it for free now at myBankrate.

Knowing your number won't give you a full picture of your credit. You also have to check your credit reports for errors and evidence of fraud, including identity theft. But a whopping 34% of Americans say they have never checked their credit reports. That number is similar to what we found during last year's survey.

About half of all adults say they check their credit report at least once a year.

"I would say that everyone at a bare minimum should check their credit report at least once a year," says Diane Moogalian, vice president of operations at Equifax Personal Solutions, the credit bureau's credit monitoring and identity protection business unit.

By law, consumers are entitled to 1 free credit report per year from each of the 3 major credit bureaus, Moogalian says. So you could get a free report from 1 bureau every 4 months.

How to talk about credit

When you do broach the subject of finances and credit, you don't have to be blunt. Rather, "approach it from the side," Friedman says.

"'How's your latte, and, by the way, what's your credit score?' can feel overly direct and intrusive in a 1st, or early encounter," says Trish McDermott, founder of Encore Dating, a dating advice and support community for divorced and divorcing people. "That's why I like more friendly and even flirtatious questions for early dates."

McDermott suggests approaching the topic by asking questions like:

  • How would your life change if you won the lottery?

  • Do you ever look back at your younger self and think about what you might have done differently in terms of career and how you handle money?

"The way you ask the question is important," Masini says. "If your date feels like you're grilling them the way human resources does in a job interview, it will be a turn-off and feel like a violation."

Credit score opposites

If you learn that the person you're dating has a wildly different credit score than you, that doesn't necessarily mean the relationship won't work.

If you have a higher score than your partner, find out if they've recognized what led to their low score and if they're "already in the stage of repair," says McKague, the financial planner. With time and patience, your partner may be able to improve his or her credit score.

If you're the person with the lower score, you need to analyze your financial situation honestly.

"If you understand why you have a low credit score and can explain it, you're in a much better position to make a relationship work with someone who has good credit than if you shrug and come up with crazy excuses for why your credit score is so low," Masini says.

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