Could you determine someone's creditworthiness by his or her looks?

By Xin Lu. Last updated 31 March 2009. 5 comments

Today I read about an interesting study done by Rice University  on  the correlation between trustworthiness and looks.  The researchers utilized the popular peer to peer lending site Prosper.com and Amazon's Mechanic Turk.  Prosper is a site that allows borrowers to submit a loan application along with personal details and a picture.  The researchers took the pictures off over 6000 of these applications and showed them to 25 individuals through Amazon.com's Mechanic Turk and asked these workers to rank the creditworthiness of the people in the Prosper pictures.  The results show quite a few startling correlations between looks and creditworthiness.

First, the 25 Mechanic Turk workers' perceived trustworthiness of the photographs they saw actually correlated with the credit scores of these borrowers.  This means that the workers somehow instinctually distinguished people's credit simply based on the photographs.  Those who were deemed untrustworthy had to pay  interest rates that were on average 1.82% higher than the rates paid by those who were deemed trustworthy.  Additionally, they found that the people who were ranked as trustworthy actually defaulted less often on their Prosper loans.

This experiment is interesting because it shows that humans are able to correctly place trust  to some extent just based on the  looks of others. This makes sense to me because  in the past you had to actually go to a bank and meet with someone face to face to open an account or take out a loan.  Now many loans and credit applications are done online and perhaps the human interaction that is lost may be a factor that contributes to  higher default rates.

The research also shows that many lenders do care about the picture posted on Prosper by borrowers.  So the tip here for borrowers is to post a picture where you look as trustworthy as possible.  Perhaps a good way to gauge your own trustworthiness is to hire 25 people on Amazon's MTurk and pay them a few cents each to rate  your picture just like the researchers did.  It might be a good investment if you want a large loan to close at a good rate.

Finally, the research paper by Jefferson Duarte, Stephan Siegel, and Lance A. Young is titled Trust and Credit, and it is available here.   The actual paper contains quite a bit of statistics, but unfortunately it does not tell you how to make yourself look more trustworthy.
 

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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Guest's picture

Totalace totally agree with this.. infact Citifinancial even today follows a lending model wheer the customer needs to meet the bank officer face to face before his/her loan is sanctioned.. So it indeed works...

Guest's picture
Guest

Interesting article, but not sure of its relevance, because...

No real indication/discussion (possibly buried in the actual research?) of what factors actually contribute to the perception that someone is trustworthy. Appearances are immensely deceiving. (Yo, can y'all say Bernie Madoff? Tons of politicians, businesspeople who stole from companies...)

And frankly, while I agree that if one can meet someone in person when doing business, it may help you get a sense of who they are. But not always.

Most people are frankly a lousy judge of character. (We just all think we're better than we are.) Especially when dealing with people whom they perceive as attractive, rich, etc.

I've worked with clients I've met in person and clients I've never met physically (talk on phone, email). There is no correlation between the trustworthiness of those I saw and those I did not meet. Both types have screwed me over (even with signed contracts. In fact, one of my worst experiences was working with a company that interviewed me (and others) for close to two months for a job. I saw them plenty but they were very skilled liars and performers.

How on earth just seeing someone could determine their creditworthiness is highly debatable. You can get a sense of someone, but many people are very, very skilled in deceit.

Watch the new show "Lie to Me" It's great in breaking down physical clues to individual's behavior. But even that is not perfect.

Guest's picture
Guest

It's highly subjective and reflects the viewer's personal prejudices and biases (we ALL have them), which can be MANY.

Better to rely on a quantifiable and standardized evaluation system. "likeability" and personality should not be key factors.

By the way, this approach is why we have issues with "discrimination" in all areas of life.

Somebody looks at another and decides : Oh, you're too (fill in the blank) to do whatever.

Guest's picture

Judging if someone is credit worthy solely by a picture I don't think is possible. Meeting face to face is a little easier. When you talk to someone you get a sense of their personality. If someone is dressed neat, has general knowledge of personal finance, and seems to be overall a more conservative individual they will probably have better credit. On the other hand if someone seems to live for the moment wears expensive flashy clothing and doesn't have basic knowledge about finance I would say their credit is probably lower. There are exceptions the first person "the conservative person may have lost their job and as a result their credit score has lowered because of a few missed payments. The person who "lives for the moment" may be a free spirit but perhaps is a sucessful screen writer and has professionals manage his or her finances.

Guest's picture
Cyril Ugochukwu

the answer to that question is yes and no. you are address by your dressing but may not be who you really are. false teachers can come in sheep clothing. the language of the pocket may not be the language of appearance. i flamboyantly dressed one day but on able to buy a bottle of sans to digest a donut. but sometimes creditworthiness is determined by your look. the flamboyant appearance tells me that there is money in his pocket. so we need to treat everyone nicely cos you don't know who you are dealing with.