How do you like your coffee? And what’s your credit score?

If you’re dating someone, and it’s getting serious, should you ask to see their credit score?

Well, don’t snoop, but yes, you do need to ask. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. This is part of being in a healthy adult relationship.

You might not want to know the answer, especially in the early days, when the relationship is all fun, fun, fun. But at some point, certainly long before you make a commitment like living together or getting married, you need to talk about this stuff.

  • So, what should you do if your girlfriend or boyfriend’s credit score is significantly lower than yours?

At a minimum, you need to have a conversation about it. If they aren’t paying their bills, that is a character flaw, and you need to think about whether to continue the relationship. There are only three reasons people don’t pay their bills: (1) they don’t have the money, (2) they’re lazy, or (3) they’re unorganized. None of those things are good.

I have never missed a payment on anything in my entire life. Not insurance. Not a phone bill. Not a credit card bill. Nothing. And the thought of being with someone who is a financial mess… it would just never happen.

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  • What if you discover that you are the one with a significantly lower score?

Then you need to take steps to rectify the problem.

Let’s start with the basics. There are three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These companies suck up data on you. Then they assign you a score ranging from 300, which is the lowest score, to 850, which is perfect.

On a side note, I had a perfect score for a while. Then I paid off my mortgage and my score dropped a little, which is counterintuitive, but that’s how it works.

Anyway, the average score in the US is 698, but it varies depending on where you live. Credit scores run high in New England and the upper Midwest. And they run low here in South Carolina.

If your score is below 680, it’s generally considered subprime. That makes it tough to get a loan. You’re going to run into problems if you apply for a mortgage. A prime credit score is anything from 680 to 740. And if your score is above 740, it’s considered super-prime—you’re a great credit risk.

  • Five factors go into your score…

The first factor is your payment history. Basically, do you pay your bills on time? This is the simplest part to control. Just… pay your bills on time. If you are the type of person who tends to flake and pay a day or two late, acknowledge that and manage it by setting up autopay.

The second factor is how much money you owe relative to your available credit. You can improve this part by paying down your credit cards. You can also ask your credit card company for a higher credit limit. That doesn’t mean you should charge more. Just get the higher limit on paper, so you’re using a lower percentage of the credit available to you.

The third factor is the length of your credit history. A long history of paying your bills on time is better than a short one. The fourth factor is the types and mix of credit you use—credit cards, car loans, mortgages, etc.

And finally, new credit applications—applying for several new lines of credit in rapid succession points to financial instability and can hurt your score.

  • Twenty-five years ago, nobody knew their credit score…

You only found out what it was when you applied for a mortgage or a car loan. Now, thanks, to the internet, it’s pretty easy to track. In fact, most major credit cards offer credit monitoring services—often for free. These are good tools to utilize, even if your score is already high. Identity theft is not uncommon, and errors are easier to fix when you know about them early.

Relationships fail for all kinds of reasons. But the dumbest reason is fighting about money. It’s also one of the most common. The easiest way to avoid a messy road is to talk about money early in a relationship, compare credit scores, and if one (or both) of you has a problem, address it before you make a commitment that’s difficult to unravel.

Jared Dillian
Jared Dillian