You might be with your partner for better or worse, but if he or she has a low credit score, you might want to work on raising it.
These days, more and more people are considering credit scores when selecting romantic partners.
In fact, a 2017 Bankrate.com survey revealed 42 percent of the 1,000 adult participants said knowing someone's credit score could be a deciding factor when dating.
So, should you care about your partner's credit score? And if so, how much?
See related: Improve your spouse's credit score – 5 tips
It can be valuable, but it shouldn't be a deal-breaker
The question is complicated, said Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health consultant who owns the website Enlightened Reality.
Not only does knowing your partner's score give you a peek at their financials, but it could also provide insight into their overall consistency and reliability, she said.
“People are looking for someone with either similar spending habits or someone who can balance them out for the better – nobody goes looking for someone who's particularly irresponsible with their finances,” Mahalli said.
With this in mind, she said, it can be valuable to consider your significant other's credit score, but it shouldn't be a make-or-break in the relationship.
“Before my husband and I married we openly talked about our finances,” said Monica Lam, financial blogger for the website LuckyMojito.
But it wasn't until they lived together that Lam started to fully understand his bad spending habits.
He was never taught how to manage his money, so when he bought his first place and the bills started piling up, he started making late mortgage payments and his credit score took a big hit.
Lam said if she had considered only her husband's credit score she wouldn't have married him, but she chose to look at the big picture.
A credit score is a great metric for financial well-being, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Like net worth, it only gives a snapshot, she said.
Fast-forward several years and not only was Lam's husband able to build his credit score up 150 points, but he also became adamant about paying off their credit card debt.
“He knew finances were important to me so he hired a credit repair company to help him dispute mistakes, remove negative items, negotiate existing bills and monitor for discrepancies that can lower your credit score,” Lam said.
In addition, he gradually changed his money habits and got a side hustle selling junk and doing house cleanouts to pay off his debt.
Just because someone has a bad credit score doesn't mean they can't learn how to better manage their finances in the future.
“If someone's credit card score is low and they don't do anything to improve it, that can be a sign of problems ahead,” Lam said.
If someone's credit score is low and they don't do anything to improve it, that can be a sign of problems ahead.
Pay closer attention to your partner's debt load and earning potential
When determining financial compatibility, it's important you look at the whole picture – not just credit scores, said Amin Dabit, director of advisory service at Personal Capital.
You need to know if your partner has any debt, and if so, what it is costing them.
“For instance, having $50,000 in high interest credit card debt is a lot worse than having a $50,000 mortgage,” Dabit said.
You should also consider if your partner is bringing in viable income now and will be for the foreseeable future — and if you can count on them to be a long-term financial contributor.
Your partner's savings and spending habits are also important, Dabit said.
For example, do they look to the future and pattern their savings habits to meet any specific goals? For instance, they might make a six-figure salary, but if they're spending 99 percent of that income, there's no way to save.
See related: Empowerment through financial literacy
Knowing each other's scores can help you plan your financial future
Knowing your partner's credit score gives you valuable insight into your financial future as a couple, according to Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of the personal finance site Money Done Right.
Credit scores can also be a measure of how successful your relationship will be. The Federal Reserve found that couples with similar credit scores were more likely to succeed in their relationship than those with vastly different scores.
If your partner has a lower credit score, it will likely affect your long-term goals that require borrowing money, such as buying a house, Allec noted.
“If one partner brings a bad credit history and score into a marriage, attempts to apply for credit jointly could result in less than stellar credit terms on the loan,” he said.
And bearing more expensive costs for borrowing can cause a significant drag on your personal finances for the long-term, thereby eating into your ability to become financially stable or even retire, said Riley Adams, senior financial analyst and owner of the personal finance blog Young and the Invested.
Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of the website Debt.com, always urges couples to unravel their finances before they tie the knot.
“It just makes sense, and it's not cynical or unromantic, either. A credit score's three digits are a window into the soul,” Dvorkin said.
Since we all know couples often fight about money, a partner's credit score might just give you insight into how much you'll disagree in the money arena, he said.
“You better know this before you get hitched, or even if you're not getting married but plan to share major expenses,” Dvorkin added.
See related: FICO's 5 factors – the components of a credit score
A low credit score is not a harbinger of disaster
Ali Zane, credit repair advocate at iMax Credit Repair Firm, said he has clients who reach out to him with the sole purpose of restoring their credit score because they're about to get married.
But, Zane said, there are many reasons why someone might have a low credit score, and it doesn't always signal disaster.
If you're struggling to make it financially, then surely your FICO score is going to be below par, but Zane has also seen multimillionaires with low scores.
For instance, one of his clients owned 50 hotels and was worth $500 million, but had missed a few $10 to $25 payments, which brought his score down by more than 150 points.
The problem is that FICO scores don't account for some things, such as income and a person's capacity to pay, Zane pointed out.
The credit bureaus view a $10 missed payment the same way as a $100,000 one.
So, even if you're financially stable, your credit score could be painting a different picture.
Zane made the case that a credit score may not be the best barometer of financial health, whereas a credit report might be, as long as you can factor in a person's income.
And keep in mind that credit reports no longer show certain negative financial items that your partner may be keeping secret, such as tax liens and civil judgments. If your partner has been hit with a tax lien in the past, the IRS may be pursuing wage garnishment. That could have a direct impact on a partner when it comes to paying the rent or mortgage.
“Credit scores should not be the main consideration for a couple — your partner's overall financial health should,” Zane said.
Credit scores should not be the main consideration for a couple — your partner's overall financial health should.
Have a conversation
“It amazes me how many spouses know each other's shoe sizes and favorite desserts, but they don't have a clue about their credit scores, which is the most important number in a person's life — right after their age and blood pressure,” Dvorkin said.
Talking about money is never fun, but it's a must for couples who plan on sharing it.
“Will you show me yours if I show you mine?” is the perfect way to start a conversation about money.
If that number is low, then it's a good time to ask, “Hey, what happened?”
The best thing a couple can do is to be open and honest about their financial habits from the outset of a relationship — this can help mitigate money-related stress down the line.
But whether a person has just entered a relationship or has been with their partner for decades, financial conversations should always be part of a regular dialogue.
If you and your partner are struggling with these conversations, it can be helpful to discuss them with a financial advisor — or even a financial therapist — who can act as a neutral third party to help work toward a solution.