With 70 percent of marriages ending in divorce due to financial disagreements, those looking for a partner are increasingly popping the big question: What is your credit score?
Surprised? You shouldn't be. Banks, landlords, insurance companies, employers and even Internet providers have been relying on this three-digit calculation to measure a person's character and decide if they want to take a risk on you.
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So why shouldn't a potential partner?
That's just what Niem Green, founder and CEO of CreditScoreDating.com, thought when he launched his dating website in 2006 after working for a number of years as an underwriter for a bank.
"It was my job to determine if there would be a relationship between the bank and the borrower based on their credit score," he said. "And I started to notice there were similar patterns between the scores and the personalities I would meet. I just thought, what would happen if people were able to date this way?"
According to a recent conducted by Wakefield Research for Citigroup, Green was on to something about the importance of financial savvy to a relationship. More than three out of four Americans in a committed relationship, or 78 percent, prefer a partner who is good with money over one who is physically attractive.
The bottom line? These days it's much more attractive to be an 800 than a perfect 10.
The Citi online survey also found that one in four respondents said they would actually prefer that their significant other discuss finances more often, and nearly seven out of 10 have avoided bringing up the topic of money to prevent an argument.
Rachel Sussman, a licensed psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist in New York City, said the theory behind CreditScoreDating.com is sound. "I'm a big proponent of a couple's talking about finances," she said. "The talk needs to start early on. It still shocks me when I meet married couples who have a hard time talking about it. Usually it's because there's a history of fighting because one's a spender and one's a saver," she said.
Sussman said most people want to be with a partner who's responsible. "When someone's responsible financially, that really says a lot about them," she said. "And being financially irresponsible says a lot about them, too."
Green admits that there are those who have been cynical in the past about his idea of using creditworthiness to find an ideal match.
"My naysayers are people who don't understand credit or the importance of it," Green said. "Banks determine if they will have a relationship with you in, many cases, 90 seconds. I'm not saying that for a perfect relationship you have to have perfect credit, but I've learned that there are certain patterns that indicate if you're trustworthy."
According to Diana Nichols, a credit management expert and president of Gold Key Consulting in Fairfield, Connecticut, "there's definitely certain personality traits that I see when it comes to scores. But, she added, "not everyone who has a poor credit rating is irresponsible." Nichols explained that sometimes there are circumstances beyond a person's control, such as health issues, student loan debt or job loss, that can cause a person to get into financial straits. The credit management expert also believes that "at least 50 percent of credit reports have errors. The system is very flawed," she said.
Sussman agreed, telling the story of one of her clients who is deep in student loan debt from medical school and can't pay her bills. "She's out there dating and very nervous about how men are going to deal with this," she said. "I tell her to just be honest, and if the relationship is getting serious, she should be able to say, 'I have a terrible credit score. I don't always want to have this problem and I know I will overcome it, and this is how I will do it.' "
The concept of finding your perfect match via credit score seems to be catching on: CreditScoreDating.com currently has 35,000 members, up from 15,000 in 2013. And while many are divorcees looking to find someone more financially compatible the second time around, nearly 72 percent of the new members in the last 30 days are between the ages of 25 and 34, with men and women nearly equally represented.
"This age group is becoming our strongest demographic," Green said, explaining that initially the site primarily attracted males in their late 40s and 50s.
Nichols said more and more of her clients are young, newly married couples without kids who need to fix their credit and learn how to manage it.
Green attributes the millennial interest to other factors, based on feedback from social networking his company does. "I'm also hearing these young people say, 'I'm at a point in my life where it's time to get serious.' " When you come to a site where you have to present your credit score, he said, "it's not because you want to play."
Green, who is also the CEO of Green Walk Media Group, a multimedia company that produces books, magazines, music, film and television, is so optimistic about the attention his site is getting that he is coming out with an app to alert members to other members in their area who share the same credit score. In addition, he has written a book entitled "Credit Score Dating: The Phenomenon/The Sexiness of Credit" and is launching an online reality television dating series in which six members of CreditScoreDating.com live in a house together and are given real-world financial tasks, then are judged on how well they pay bills and budget their funds.
Most credit scores, including the well-known FICO score, range from 301 to 850. Surprisingly, however, not everyone on CreditScoreDating.com has a sexy credit score of 720 or higher, which is considered very good to excellent. In fact, some members rate in the low 500s. According to Green, these people are simply looking for relativity, someone who understands what they've been through financially.
He cited one member who recently divorced after trying for years to keep up with his wife's spending. "After they got married, he found out she was a shopaholic. He wound up being $60,000 in credit card debt and was working two jobs. It eventually led to bankruptcy," Green said. Another member, also divorced, joined the dating website after her ex-husband gambled away their savings and amassed a ton of debt.
Sussman, the family and marriage therapist, said she sees this scenario often. "Some people say, 'Well, we are married now, so this is our problem.' But I admire people who say, 'Look, this is my debt. I'm going to take care of it, and this is how I'm going to do it.' "
With the explosion of dating sites, Sussman believes it's never been easier than today to find a date. "New couples are constantly being created. But people embellish on these sites; you never know if people are telling the truth," she said, adding, "You can probably cut through a lot of the smoke and mirrors knowing what someone's credit score is."