Looking for love this Valentine’s Day? While being compatible in matters of the heart is critical for a midlife love match, a good credit score is increasingly guiding the hearts of men and women in their 50s and 60s, too.
Dan Nainan, 51, a New York City-based comedian says he asked his girlfriend about her credit standing early on in their relationship.
“The last thing I want to do is date someone who has $20,000 in credit card debt,” he says. “She was fine with the questions, because fortunately her credit is pristine.”
Why Debt Should Be Discussed
As unromantic as talking about debt may sound, it’s a vital subject for older couples. After all, if you wind up getting married to someone with a poor credit score, your joint application for a car loan, mortgage or credit card could be denied or the interest rate you’ll pay could be sky high.
So it’s wise to know about a new love’s debt problems and money woes sooner, rather than later, to protect your own finances and your relationship.
No, financial experts aren’t recommending bringing up the topics of credit scores or impulse spending on your first evening out. “You don't want to leave the impression that you're only interested in your date's financial status,” says Tina B. Tessina, a Southern California psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again.
Don’t Put Off the Conversation
And you shouldn't go around digging into public records to see if the man or woman you're dating has filed for bankruptcy.
But you don’t want to wait until you've invested months in a relationship to talk to each other about your financial situations.
“These conversations should take place early on,” says Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert and consumer advocate in the Atlanta area. “You need to make sure you're both on the same page.”
(MORE: 5 Surprising Ways Your Credit Score Can Get Nicked)
Sharing aspects of your personal life is part of the dating process, so your finances should be up for discussion, too. A recent survey from Chase Card Services shows that most Americans agree. More than two thirds of the survey's respondents (65 percent) said that it's best to discuss finances with your significant other within the first three months of the relationship.
How to Bring Up the Subject
“There are lots of ways to do it without directly asking: ‘Are you in debt?’” Tessina says. “You can talk about a friend's struggle with credit. Any topic that lends itself to money without asking directly about your partner’s finances will usually lead to getting information.”
Tessina suggests the two of you share financial information gradually. Don't dump all your money questions into one conversation.
“You're more likely to get reciprocation if you share little things at a time,” Tessina says.
What you don’t want to say is, “We need to talk about your credit situation.” Words like those sound accusatory and are likely to scare off your date.
(MORE: Valentine’s Day for Fiftysomething Lovers)
Which Debt Problems Matter
Your antenna should go up only if your new love's debt problems are either large or indicate a disturbing pattern.
George Villa, a financial adviser and founder of Villa Tax Advisory Group in Groveland, Ill., says things like bankruptcy, a low credit score (below 680, generally) and multiple frequent delinquencies are red flags.
But don’t turn a one-time mistake, like a single missed credit card payment, into a deal breaker. Slipups may have been due to extenuating circumstances that can be forgiven or explained away.
Maybe your love interest co-signed a loan for her son that went into collection because he failed to make payments, sending her credit score spiraling down the tubes. Or the person you’re dating took time off from work to care for an aging parent, which led to bills going unpaid temporarily.
In instances like those, Villa says, a nicked credit score isn’t a sign of financial irresponsibility. And a date who’s taking steps to make amends is one to be admired. Have a heart.
Gina Roberts-Grey is an award-winning writer whose articles on personal finances, health and celebrities have appeared in more than 200 publications worldwide.