MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, people often talk about the struggle to get into college but for many students, finishing is really the big challenge. Our next guest has some practical tips for students, to help them make it to the finish line.
But first, to matters of personal finance and today, we mean really personal. We're not quite sure how many people we're talking about, but it appears that there's compelling evidence that for a growing number of singles, a potential date's credit score can kill a romance before it starts.
Debt and financial habits are becoming topics of conversation earlier and earlier in relationships, and there are even dating websites that promote the sharing of credit scores to help screen potential dates.
We wanted to know more about this, so we called Jessica Silver-Greenberg, who recently wrote about this for The New York Times. Also with us is Josephine La Bella. She was featured in the article and believes that people should consider sharing their credit scores as a way to find - as one way to find a mate. And they're both with us now.
Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.
JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG: Thank you.
JOSEPHINE LA BELLA: Thank you.
MARTIN: Jessica, how did you hear about this?
SILVER-GREENBERG: Since the financial crisis, I have often looked at debt and how debt impacts your credit. And so I was interviewing for a separate story altogether. I was looking at the emergence of the credit score as a kind of scarlet letter, and I was talking to financial planners. And they were telling me that they were hearing more and more that their clients were concerned about a potential mate's credit score. So that's where it began, and then the reporting led me to those - kind of delicious dating websites that we featured in the article as well.
MARTIN: Is this younger people just starting out, or is this more mature people? Because you can understand that when you get to a certain point in life where you have a lot of assets - you know, house, kids, college, grad school tuitions and things like that. But your reporting seemed to indicate and seemed - I see - saw more evidence that these were younger people.
SILVER-GREENBERG: They were. I mean, Josephine, you're what - in your 20s, right?
LA BELLA: I'm 25.
SILVER-GREENBERG: Right. This was people who are starting out. And to me it made some sense, in part because when you're trying to get - say, a mortgage, access to credit for the first time, the difference between a low credit score and, you know, a healthy credit score - something above, say, 750 - that can make a huge difference.
MARTIN: Josephine, how does this first come up on a date?
LA BELLA: Well, I was out on a date, and we had been discussing me buying a piece of property with a friend in Newark, New Jersey, to flip the property. And I had been openly discussing this with the date. And he had mentioned to me that maybe I would want to like - you know, really, really look at this; look at the other person's credit history, and kind of think longer about it. And, you know, I trust the person I wanted to do this with, so I didn't really think about it.
And then he just blurted out the credit score; and I was sitting there, kind of looking at him like, OK, well, if you're going to blurt out your credit score, I'll tell you mine. And rather than him look at me like I was crazy, it ended up - having a really productive conversation. And it ended up that we were able to have a very trusting friendship as a result.
MARTIN: But this wasn't a romantic interest?
LA BELLA: It was, and then it turned otherwise, so...
MARTIN: But could it have been because you both blurted out your credit scores on the first date?
LA BELLA: No, no.
MARTIN: Just wondering.
LA BELLA: No, no, no. It was more related to just kind of a personal work circumstance - situation.
MARTIN: OK. But how do you now broach this with people? Because is this first-date conversation?
LA BELLA: Well, actually, my current boyfriend met me in the midst of "this is the girl who's being featured in The New York Times for her credit score." I had no chance to not tell him. It was the way I was introduced to him. And he has yet to tell me his credit score, but he's very respectful of the fact that I want to have a good control of my finances, and to have a strong financial footing in a very tough economy.
MARTIN: Jessica, what are some of the other reasons that people told you that they were talking about this? And how are some of the ways that people bring this up?
SILVER-GREENBERG: Hmm. The most shocking example, I thought, was this woman - Jessica LaShawn. She was one of the first ones that I found, and it was because she was blogging about how shocked she was that someone had asked her her credit score over dessert. So the date, apparently, was going very well. She even had kind of some fanta - was entertaining some fantasies about where it might go in the future. And then all of a sudden, this question kind of shattered the romance. So that's how someone had the kind of chutzpah to bring it up, in her situation.
Because of the sensitivity of this, I think some people are more comfortable using the dating websites. And one of the things that I saw on these online financial forums, where you can discuss any issue that you might be interested in, in terms of your finances, some people would say look, I feel like a really bad person. I just found out that my boyfriend - or my girlfriend - has a, you know, a 620 credit score; and I feel bad, but I want to dump them.
And some of those reasons that kind of unspooled in the conversation online were related to things like, I want to be able to get an auto loan - for instance. You know, I want to be able to get a car loan. I want to be able to get a mortgage. I don't like the idea of this person's finances being joined with mine and somehow weighing down my otherwise good financial picture.
MARTIN: You know, I can think of a couple of ways to look at this. On the one hand, it certainly makes sense in that money is, let's just say, a big source - can be a big source of stress in relationships if people have very different attitudes toward money.
MARTIN: But a credit score is just one thing. Josephine, maybe this is a good question for you because this is part of your metric of decision-making. Is it - on the one hand, is this a way to sort of screen people out on a very narrow and possibly even fickle basis? On the other hand, if those really are your values, then maybe you should just come clean with it - right?
LA BELLA: Well, I definitely like to consider somebody's financial place in the world when I'm dating them, but I feel that that's not an independent factor of their life. If somebody is unemployed but managing well, that's one thing. But if they're unemployed and maxing out credit cards, you're going to start to wonder what other bad behaviors are they going to bring into your life.
If we're encouraging America's youth to be aware of sexually transmitted diseases, why are we not making them aware of their finances, and their own personal credit history if they're not careful?
MARTIN: Jessica, what kind of reaction are you getting to the piece?
SILVER-GREENBERG: I've received two kinds of things. One, I get emails that say, oh, I'm so glad you wrote about this. Credit is a very interesting proxy. I mean, it's a little bit of what Josephine was saying. You know, the credit score, I think, for some people, has become a way of getting a much greater picture of the potential date. Or they're using it to both understand that person's financial habits, their - you know, comfort with accumulating debt; whether they're responsible. So I got a lot of emails saying they also use the credit score in that way. And then, of course, there's a whole - kind of torrent of emails that say, this is unbelievable and it's not actually happening.
MARTIN: Hmm. Well, I think Josephine is going to tell you it is.
SILVER-GREENBERG: Right. Oh well, right. But you know, there's always those kinds of emails.
MARTIN: Jessica Silver-Greenberg wrote about credit scores and dating for The New York Times, and she was kind enough to join us from NPR's bureau in New York. Josephine La Bella was featured in the article, and she joined us from New Windsor, New Jersey.
Thank you both so much for speaking with us. And Josephine, good luck on your romantic quest.
LA BELLA: Thank you very much.
SILVER-GREENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.