While credit scores can affect your life - primarily your ability to borrow money, but sometimes your ability to even get a job and earn money - there are a number of reasons why you might not want to be too quick to judge your partner based on his or her credit score.
Credit Scores May Not Reflect Present or Future Behavior
Many of us were irresponsible with money when we were young. Maybe our parents didn't set a good example, or we never learned about personal finance in school or we simply didn't understand the importance of managing money well. Many of us also grew up and stopped making the childish mistakes we made in our youth.
Your partner might have a poor credit score because he or she was careless about paying credit card bills in college, but has now held a great job for several years and contributes the maximum to his or her 401(k). Meanwhile, it can take up to seven years for blemishes to fall off a credit report. In addition, some people who have tried to be responsible in cleaning up their past mistakes have seen their credit worsen when they made debt settlement arrangements. In any case, you should evaluate whether your partner's past behavior seems likely to continue or has changed for the better.
A Credit Score Doesn't Tell You About a Person's Character
Past events such as a divorce, illness or unemployment may have put your partner in a bad financial position. During these times of extreme stress, he or she may have fallen behind on bill payments and his or her credit score may have suffered as a result. If your partner is typically responsible and hardworking, the low credit score is probably a temporary setback and not an indication of how his or her behavior will potentially affect your finances in the long run.
Other Ways to Judge Financial Responsibility
Much of the time, you can get an idea of what your partner's credit score looks like by paying attention to his or her behaviors and attitudes. Take a look at his or her work ethic, spending habits and the comments he or she makes about money. If your partner brews coffee for a living but drives a Porsche, he or she might have a habit of spending beyond his or her means. If your partner makes disparaging comments about people who earn high incomes, he or she might not earn much and have a negative attitude about his or her future prospects. By having general conversations about money based on stories in the news and other impersonal financial information, you can learn whether you and your partner are financially compatible without reducing each other to a three-digit number.
Not Everyone Understands Credit Scoring
Sometimes achieving an excellent credit score is more complicated than having good financial habits. Someone who never uses credit because he or she always pay cash for purchases and never borrows money might have no credit history, which can make it difficult to get a loan because creditors have no indication of whether they will be paid back. Not having the right mix of credit, as determined by the credit bureaus, can also harm your score. If you only have credit cards, but no auto loan or mortgage, your score might suffer.
Another thing that many people don't realize can lower their credit scores is shopping for a loan over several months (too many loan applications over a longer period will ding your score). Credit reporting mistakes can also lower someone's credit score without his or her knowledge.
If your relationship grows serious enough that your partner's credit score becomes important, a few tweaks to spending and borrowing habits and perhaps a few calls to the credit bureaus will allow your partner to improve his or her position in the credit scoring game.
Bad Credit Can Be the Result of Identity Theft
Do you want to write off a partner because they've been a victim of a crime? While identity theft is sometimes the result of carelessness, it can easily happen to even the most responsible person because so many businesses and institutions have our personal data. A hacker, scammer, careless employee or even a dishonest friend or relative is likely the cause of your partner's bad credit if his or her identity was stolen.
The Bottom Line
Bad credit can be improved substantially within a few years through simple actions, such as using less of your available credit, consistently paying your bills on time, increasing the length of your credit history and paying down your debt. The right partner can be with you for a lifetime, so as long as the two of you can align your financial behaviors and goals, and work together toward financial success, you might want to give your partner a second chance.