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Archive for Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Money can put love to test

February 14, 2006

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What better time to talk about love and money than on Valentine's Day?

As always during this time of year, I get releases from many companies stressing that with romance comes finance.

For example, Fair Isaac Corp., the company that pioneered the FICO credit-scoring model, just released results of a national survey on consumer attitudes on credit when it comes to a significant other.

The survey was conducted in January for myFICO, Fair Isaac's consumer division. The Heart/Credit Connection research, based on telephone polling with 1,022 people, was conducted by Opinion Research Corp. The sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Would you be surprised to learn that money conflicts cause more friction in a relationship than cheating?

Fair Isaac found that a large percentage of respondents - a third - said that a lack of financial responsibility hurt their relationships more than their significant other being unfaithful.

Keeping the finances straight also trumped a good sex life. Respondents were twice as likely to select financial responsibility (22 percent) than sexual compatibility (10 percent) as a personal trait that has sustained their relationships.

Here are some other key findings:

¢ Late bill-paying was cited as often as problems with in-laws or relatives as a stressful situation that put pressure on a relationship. Late bill-paying was reported as a relationship stress factor by 37 percent of those with household incomes of less than $25,000. This pressure also was felt by people with higher incomes. Thirty-two percent of respondents with household incomes of $75,000 or more said their relationships have felt the pressure of unpaid bills.

¢Women are more likely to say "show me the money." Men and women overwhelming said the first quality to look for in a mate is a sense of humor. But when women advise their girlfriends on a potential mate's romantic quotient, they are more likely than men to emphasize making sure the mate has a steady job, pays bills on time and has a good credit history.

¢Big Mama knew best. My grandmother always told me to make sure I married a man with good saving habits. Well, Fair Isaac found that older folks do give the best advice about love and money. Among those aged 50 and older, 86 percent recommend learning about a person's credit history before making a romantic commitment.

There was one result in the survey that Fair Isaac portrayed as a negative but I thought was sensible. The company found that many people are reluctant to share their credit score with a love interest.

This is how the company reported that statistic: "Although half of respondents (52 percent) consider honesty to be one of the most important qualities for sustaining a relationship, the survey also found that Americans guard their personal financial information closely."

While almost two-thirds of respondents (62 percent) had been told or seen a report about their credit score, a third of this group (33 percent) admitted they would be reluctant to share their credit score with a significant other.

Keep finances a secret

If you're just dating, you should keep your personal finances private. Just because you're locking lips with someone on a regular basis doesn't mean you should share your credit score or other financial information. The time to completely open your financial books is when you've made a commitment to get married.

Frankly, I'm surprised that the survey results found that just 69 percent of married respondents would reveal their credit scores to their spouses. Pardon me, but that result should have been 100 percent. Why would you keep your credit score secret from your spouse?

Here's something I want to explore from the survey. How happy would you be if your spouse spent lavishly on you for Valentine's Day?

Would a new car you hadn't discussed make you jump for joy or want to slap your forehead in frustration?

More than half (57 percent) of consumers think it would be wonderfully romantic if their significant other booked tickets for a surprise international trip. But a shopping spree that maxed out a credit card was considered financially foolish by just about everyone who was polled.

Why even bother to tell you about these romance and finance surveys? They serve a purpose. For the companies, it's a way to prove you need their services or product. Fair Isaac wants consumers to purchase their credit scores (credit reports are now free once every 12 months but you have to pay to get your credit scores).

For me, these surveys are a constant reminder that while roses or chocolates are nice on Valentine's Day, the best gift you can give your honey is to handle your finances right. Clearly that will make a difference in your quality of life together.

- Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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