Financial incompatibility is a leading cause of divorce and breakups. It therefore makes some sense to try to ensure early on, that a couple shares similar financial values and habits. For many, the scope of this evaluation has been distilled into one central question: "What is your credit score?"
The credit score of a potential love interest can have very real consequences for your future life together. Without a good credit score, your partner's job prospects will be limited. You may not qualify for an apartment rental, and mortgage interest rates on your dream home will be significantly higher. Someone who has responsibly dealt with his or her finances may resent living with the negative consequences of a partner's irresponsible financial past.
No one can dispute the importance of a good credit score these days. It is probably as fair an inquiry of a prospective love interest as health or criminal history. That being said, it is critically important to look beyond a less than perfect score and determine whether there are extenuating circumstances. For example, there may be a mistake in the score. Dozens of my clients have checked their credit reports and discovered negative items for another person with the same name. A legitimate billing dispute may also have been negatively reflected in the credit report. With so much at stake, all of us should take advantage of our right to receive a free annual credit report from each of the three big credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). One can then dispute and/or explain negative entries and thereby lift the all-important credit score.
A credit score may also have been damaged by events beyond the person's control. An illness or layoff may have forced someone to "live on their cards" for an extended period to cover living expenses. Or they may have cosigned for a friend or family member's loan. Most people are unaware that merely cosigning a loan will result in an immediate credit blot. This is true even if the primary borrower is making timely payments.
Is it fair to equate a negative score with an inability to honor commitments? That depends. Giving someone the chance to discuss their less than stellar credit will allow you to gauge whether or not they are taking steps to repair the damage done. Are they now living within their means or driving a status car and eating out every night of the week?
Rather than being an immediate deal-breaker, credit difficulties may be your first opportunity as a couple to work on something together. By sharing your healthy money habits, you may be helping your partner and at the same time strengthening your new relationship. Who knows, maybe in return, they can give you tips for shedding your spare tire.
Ann Margaret Carrozza is a practicing attorney who also served as a New York State Assemblywoman. She is a regular legal contributor to TV and print media outlets. www.myelderlawattorney.com