Bad Credit? It Might Cost You Your Marriage


There's a lot to think about when choosing a partner: attraction, personality, and commonalities in interests, values, and life goals. Sense of humor is important, along with whether she's allergic to your cat or he's tolerant of your love for stinky cheeses.

If you find a good match on all of those factors, are you set? Not entirely. Studies show that there's another factor you should consider: your potential mate's credit score.

The credit score connection

What's a credit score got to do with love? Quite a bit, actually. Well, maybe not love, per se, but credit scores have something to do with the longevity of a relationship. Lower credit scores are linked with higher rates of divorce or "relationship dissolution," according to a 2015 study done by the Federal Reserve Board.

The study looked at data from 12 million consumers to track correlation between credit score and relationship longevity. The results were telling: Researchers found that credit scores play a significant role in how long committed relationships last. If both partners have higher average credit scores at the beginning of the relationship, they are less likely to separate.

A drop of 93 points in a partner's average credit score increased the chance that the relationship will end in the second year by a whopping 30 percent.

If you thought money didn't matter, think again.

What about love, and stuff?

The big question is why. Why are lower credit scores related to increased chances of a relationship ending? There are several possibilities. More than likely, it's a combination of these factors:

Assumptions of character

The researchers posit that a low credit score may be linked to the lack of key relationship skills, such as trustworthiness. Credit scores, they point out, are used in many cases not just to show that someone is financially solvent, but that they are reliable and will honor their commitments.

Of course, there are many complex factors involved in an individual's credit score. It's not fair to assume that because someone has a low credit score, that person is unreliable, lazy, or untrustworthy.

But the perception that certain negative traits are present can be enough to close a lot of society's doors for an individual. A low credit score might mean you can't get a lease, can't get a loan, or can't buy a car. Those closed doors lead to the second significant factor: stress.

Ongoing financial stress

A low credit score may be due to unsecured and unpaid debt, often with high interest rates attached. Having debt at a high interest rate is enough, by itself, to cause financial stress. When you add in those closed doors, you get a mountain of financial pain.

Imagine someone who has high-interest debt with a fairly high monthly payment. This person gets a great job, but needs reliable transportation to get to it. They can't get a loan to buy a car, and they don't have the cash to purchase one outright, so they have to rely on friends and family for rides. Maybe public transportation is available, but maybe it isn't. This person's ability to get to work depends on the willingness of other people to provide transportation.

It's not the credit score, but it is

Stress is stress, whether it's financial or caused by some other factor. When someone lives under continual financial stress, it affects the functioning of their brain and body. Chronic stress is linked to higher blood pressure, lowered immune system, weight gain and obesity, depression and anxiety, short-term memory impairment, loss of concentration, and substance abuse.

People with low credit scores are often functioning with chronic stress. They're simultaneously trying to overcome the limitations and assumptions caused by their low credit score. The relationship correlations make sense. Stress from any factor will affect a relationship; chronic stress can slowly dismantle the structure of a relationship.

Resentment in the relationship

Resentment and conflict can develop when one partner has to continually take on the brunt of the financial burden. For example, a couple decides to buy a home together; however, one partner's credit score would hurt the mortgage application. Instead of pursuing joint homeownership, the partner with better credit becomes the sole applicant for the home loan and thus, the sole responsible party. This sense of financial inequality can lead to ongoing resentment toward the person with lower credit.

Resentment can run both ways. The partner with low credit may resent having to be "helped." And the partner with better credit may use it to justify bad behavior in other areas of the relationship.

What can you do?

A credit score does not define the person you're with. And a credit score is not forever. There are ways to consolidate debt. You can get free financial counseling. Romantic partners with strong communication skills, and a plan for paying off debt and building financial security can tackle the challenges of low credit together, and win.

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