Discussing credit scores with your partner isn’t anyone’s idea of pillow talk. But the conversation can provide important clues about your beloved’s history with money and what your financial future together could look like.
Why do credit scores matter, and are they enough to make or break a relationship? Here’s what couples should know about scores and what else they should discuss when it comes to their finances.
CREDIT SCORES CARRY WEIGHT
Credit scores can determine whether you and your significant other get approved for loans, what kind of interest rates you’ll get and how much you’ll have to put down for a utility deposit.
“Having good credit is definitely important for affordability for many different things, like when it comes to purchasing a car or applying for an apartment or a mortgage,” says Shamica Joseph, a former financial counselor at GreenPath, a nonprofit credit counseling agency.
Spouses don’t merge credit scores when they get married. But if you plan to combine or open credit accounts together, regardless of marital status, your partner’s behavior on those accounts can shift your scores. The same goes if one of you becomes an authorized user or co-signer for the other.
Low scores can prevent you and your sweetheart from accessing certain products and services you desire, or make them more expensive.
“Even if you weren’t planning on merging finances, it’s still a good idea to make sure that your credit score is where you want it to be for affordability purposes, for not just you but your partner,” Joseph says.
BUT SCORES DON’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY
Many factors affect credit scores, mainly payment history and how much credit you use. If your partner has a score of 700 — in the “good” range on the standard 300 to 850 scale — they likely pay their bills on time and don’t overspend. A 600 score, typically in the “bad” range, signals the opposite.
But don’t rush to judgment. While numbers are revealing, context matters. A significant other’s low credit score could be the result of an unexpected medical bill, job loss or identity theft.
“While it doesn’t change the fact that they still have to come back and repair the credit, the reasons might be a little less alarming or challenging for a partner to learn rather than, ‘Yeah, I went ahead and spent willy-nilly. I took out extra credit cards. I defaulted,’” says Debra Kaplan, a Tucson, Arizona-based licensed professional counselor and author of several books about money and intimacy.
A low score doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, even if it’s due to irresponsibility.
“If your partner has previously declared bankruptcy or if they have a less than optimal credit score, then a common myth around that is that they may not be a good fit for a relationship or marriage,” Joseph says. “That’s not necessarily true, because you will have the opportunity to work on improving your finances together.”
Ask your loved one to explain what might be dragging their number down and what steps they’ll take to address it going forward.
Similarly, just because a person has a great score doesn’t mean they have a handle on every aspect of their financial life. Maybe they aren’t saving for retirement, or at all for that matter. Some details, like income and savings account balances, aren’t reflected in credit scores. You’ll learn much more by discussing your finances as a whole.
WHEN AND HOW TO TALK ABOUT MONEY
“So, what’s your credit score?” isn’t a great opening line for a first date. But it’s worth bringing up the topic as the relationship develops, ideally before making any major decisions like moving in together.
To create a respectful dialogue rather than an interrogation, Kaplan recommends starting from a vulnerable place. You could say something like, “I want to share a little bit about me, would you be willing to listen? And I have some questions that, if you’re willing, I would love to ask of you to share,” she says.
Remember, the conversation should cover more than credit scores. “It’s a good idea to discuss things like savings. Do you have a savings plan or do you want to start a savings plan together for future goals?” Joseph says. She also suggests talking about spending habits, budgeting, income, debt and any potential or previous bankruptcies.
If your partner shuts down the conversation, that could be cause for concern.
“The issue doesn’t get any easier to discuss. In fact, it becomes more complicated. And it could be indicative of avoidance of dealing with tough situations,” Kaplan says. “That’s not a great way to start a trusting, healthy, committed, intimate relationship.”
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Lauren Schwahn is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.
NerdWallet: What factors affect your credit scores? https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-what-makes-up-credit-score