Are you two com­pat­i­ble? Check your credit scores.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Singletary

We of­ten look for pre­dic­tors to help us make the right choices.

One of the key data points that lenders use to pre­dict whether you’ll be able to pay back a loan is a credit score. The higher your score, the more likely it is that you’ll pay your debts as promised.

Auto in­sur­ers use credit-based scores to help de­ter­mine how risky a driver you might be. Some em­ploy­ers use your credit history as part of their hir­ing de­ci­sion, although there is very lit­tle re­search to prove that a bad credit score equates to a bad em­ployee.

Now three re­searchers, in a work­ing pa­per for the Fed­eral Re­serve, have iden­ti­fied a link be­tween credit scores and com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ships.

Jane Dokko, Geng Li and Jes­sica Hayes looked through the credit files of 12 mil­lion ran­domly se­lected con­sumers in the data­base of the credit bureau Equifax. Look­ing over a 15-year pe­riod in the data, they ex­am­ined how credit scores play a role in com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ships such as mar­riages and long-term co­hab­i­ta­tions.

The re­searchers found that when it comes to credit scores, op­po­sites don’t at­tract. When there were wide gaps in scores when peo­ple first met, the more likely they were to break up. Part­ners who both have high scores tend to stay to­gether.

“Credit scores, in ad­di­tion to mea­sur­ing an in­di­vid­ual’s cred­it­wor­thi­ness re­gard­ing the re­pay­ment of debt obli­ga­tions, re­veal in­for­ma­tion about an im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship skill,” Dokko, Li and Hayes wrote. “We ar­gue that one such skill could be an in­di­vid­ual’s gen­eral trust­wor­thi­ness and com­mit­ment to non-debt obli­ga­tions.”

Now that we have this in­for­ma­tion, what should we do with it? Does this data ul­ti­mately mean that “What’s your credit score?” should be the new pickup line?

The re­search sug­gests that fi­nan­cially re­spon­si­ble peo­ple are more likely to marry suc­cess­fully, said Brad­ford Wil­cox, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia and the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Mar­riage Pro­ject.

“Han­dling your money in a pru­den­tial fash­ion builds a sense of emo­tional se­cu­rity in your mar­riage for you and your spouse,” Wil­cox added. “What’s more, com­bined as­sets serve as a sta­bi­liz­ing force in mar­ried life.”

Jeffrey Dew, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of fam­ily, con­sumer and hu­man de­vel­op­ment at Utah State Univer­sity, also sees merit in the study’s con­clu­sions. His own re­search fo­cuses on the link be­tween re­la­tion­ship qual­ity and fi­nan­cial is­sues.

Dew said more peo­ple need to un­der­stand that their money de­ci­sions af­fect not only their fi­nan­cial bot­tom line but also their “re­la­tion­ship bot­tom line.”

“It’s not sur­pris­ing that peo­ple who are con­sci­en­tious about fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments would be con­sci­en­tious about re­la­tion­ship com­mit­ments,” Dew said. “Fur­ther, the bit about the close­ness of a part­ner’s credit scores pre­dict­ing re­la­tion­ship suc­cess makes sense, too. The closer one part­ner’s credit score to the other’s, the more likely they are to have sim­i­lar views about how to han­dle money, for bet­ter or worse. Sim­i­lar views on money man­age­ment may mean less fights about money. Money ar­gu­ments are par­tic­u­larly detri­men­tal to cou­ples.”

But a per­son’s credit score, just as when fac­tored into get­ting a loan, is only one data point to con­sider. Hav­ing a low score doesn’t mean your mate isn’t a good catch. You have to look at the fac­tors that led to a low score. Is the per­son’s score the re­sult of med­i­cal bills or hav­ing been laid off?

“Cou­ples need to dis­cuss their per­sonal fi­nan­cial goals, what money means to them, how much debt they have,” Dew said. “They need to as­sess their part­ner’s at­ti­tudes about spend­ing. There is some re­search to sug­gest that tight­wads and spendthrifts don’t make the best part­ners. Fi­nan­cial com­pat­i­bil­ity is key.”

Dew shared a les­son that I wish more cou­ples would heed. He had a friend who spent an above-av­er­age amount on his fi­ancee’s en­gage­ment ring. Yet she was up­set that the ring wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t a de­signer cut, which would have nearly dou­bled the price of the ring, Dew said.

The guy broke off the en­gage­ment be­cause he re­al­ized then and there that they weren’t go­ing to be a good fit.

“He could have saved him­self a lot of time and money if they had dis­cussed fi­nan­cial is­sues ear­lier on in the re­la­tion­ship,” Dew said.

Your credit score is not a num­ber you should be dis­clos­ing if you’re not in­ter­ested in a long-term re­la­tion­ship. By it­self, it’s just a num­ber with­out per­spec­tive. Just be­cause some­one has a high score doesn’t mean you’ll be well-suited. What if he or she is a miser but you have a gen­er­ous spirit? Spend time learn­ing about the per­son’s fi­nan­cial per­son­al­ity to de­ter­mine whether you share the same val­ues.

So when should cou­ples share their credit scores?

The first date is too soon, and af­ter the wed­ding is too late. Write to Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or sin­gle­tarym@ wash­post.com. Com­ments or ques­tions may be used in a fu­ture col­umn, with the writer’s name, un­less oth­er­wise re­quested. To read more, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.

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