Another way to make your first date a living hell

Credit Score Compare
Credit Score Compare (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

Yes, really.

Now it’s considered normal to ask if your dinner partner has a decent credit score:

It’s so widely used that it has also become a bigger factor in dating decisions, sometimes eclipsing more traditional priorities like a good job, shared interests and physical chemistry. That’s according to interviews with more than 50 daters across the country, all under the age of 40.

Credit scores are like the dating equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease test,” said Manisha Thakor, the founder and chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management, a financial advisory firm. “It’s a shorthand way to get a sense of someone’s financial past the same way an S.T.D. test gives some information about a person’s sexual past.”

It’s difficult to quantify how many daters factor credit scores into their romantic calculations, but financial planners, marriage counselors and dating site executives all said that they were hearing far more concerns about credit than in the past. “I’m getting twice as many questions about credit scores as I did prerecession,” Ms. Thakor said.

I like Manisha a lot, having interviewed her for my own work. But this is…weird.

No?

I loathe debt. Hate it. Hate it! I grew up in a freelance family, where debt is just dumb if you don’t have a steady, known income. I also grew up in Canada, where there is no tax deduction for mortgage interest, as there is in the U.S., where even interest on credit card debt (!) was, for a while, tax deductible as well.

So I get why you don’t want to marry a deadbeat and sacrifice your own excellent credit score — often called a FICO score in the U.S. — to someone else’s crummy fiscal habits. I have heard far too many horror stories of people — too often women — who had no idea what insanity their husband or boyfriend was perpetrating financially until it bit them on the ass.

What do you think of this new trend?

Would you bail on someone new if they refused to share their score, or had a lousy one?

Ten warning signs you’re an adult

My Mortgage Docs to be Reviewed by an Expert
My Mortgage Docs to be Reviewed by an Expert (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

We all know the standard metrics: graduate college, grad school, marry, have kids, acquire property and a vehicle.

I never had kids, so that typical dividing line into Maturity escaped me.

But for many of us, different moments mark a definite end to innocence.

Here are ten that resonate for me:

Taxes!

I grew up in a family of freelancers whose approach to paying income tax — which is never deducted at source, for those of you who’ve never done it — was, hmmm, variable. One day my Dad said, “I have two pieces of advice for you about taxes.”

“Running and hiding?”

Suffice to say I now have a very good accountant and genuflect to him deeply.

A mortgage

In New York, getting a mortgage is like some bizarro obstacle course littered with lawyers with out-stretched hands. Check, check, check, check!

Knowing — and caring about — your FICO score

For those of you outside the U.S., this is your credit score whose quality determines whether life is pleasant (low interest rates on mortgages, car loans, credit cards) or a hell of slammed doors refusing you access to any sort of credit. Surprisingly few consumers realize what sort of leverage you have with a good score — a lot!

Giving informed consent for my mother’s brain surgery

That was very weird, given how deeply private she always was. I looked, literally, into her head, staring at the four-inch tumor on X-ray that soon, successfully, came out.

Putting my mother into a nursing home

Pretty much the hell you’d expect: having to sell 95 percent of her things and make consequential decisions quickly. Being an only child makes it both easier and harder.

Getting a colonoscopy

For those of you under 50, something to look forward to! (And those putting it off out of fear, it’s no big deal. You have one wearying day beforehand to cleanse you colon, go to sleep during the procedure. Done.)

Knowing your neighbors

When you’re young, single and often behaving badly, you may not want to know your neighbors. Who was that guy/girl skulking out of your apartment? What were those weird noises at 3 a.m.? Once you’re a bit older, maybe traveling for work, maybe with a place you own and/or value more than a dive shared with six roomies, having kind and watchful neighbors is a wonderful thing.

Regular mammograms/Pap smears/prostate exams

I’m always a little stunned when I hear of someone, (who has health insurance, which in the U.S. means these are no-brainers), who skips these essential tests. No one wants to hear bad news. My mother has survived breast cancer, so mammo day is always a little shaky for me. But seriously? Just do it!

Joining a faith community

No disrespect to atheists and agnostics. But for many of us, finding a congenial place to nurture your spiritual growth is a major step. It’s easy to focus solely on family/work/friends/fun — until the shit hits the fan.

Making a will/living will/power of attorney/health care proxy

So cheery! But if you have been fortunate enough to have accumulated anything of value, it’s worth deciding who to leave it to. And facing any sort of major surgery — even childbirth, my mom-pals tell me — means facing the scariest of fears about mortality or severe injury.

How about you?

What milestones have marked your path to adulthood?

Marrying For Money — Smart or Heartless?

Franklin Covey Task List Wallet (inside)
Image by Thirteen Of Clubs via Flickr

If there’s a woman out there  — and there are likely many — who got married with no idea of her husband’s ability to earn, save and invest his income, she’s probably been on a steep, and possibly painful, learning curve ever since. You really can be deeply in love and find out what you’re getting into financially.

You must. Today’s New York Post offers an excerpt from a new book “Smart Girls Marry Money”:

“On average, a woman earns just one-third of what the average working man makes over their lifetimes. So if you’re gonna get married, hold out for a guy who brings in some cash…Financial responsibility may say a lot more about a man’s character than his big blue eyes.”

Frank money talk can make some men grab for their…wallets…in dread. But many women really need to be a lot smarter about who they’re getting into bed with, fiscally speaking.

Who really wants to be the next Mrs. Madoff, sucking up a lifestyle you really know, or strongly suspect, is based on lies or hugely overstretched lines of credit? I’ve been with my sweetie for a decade and we discussed finances within the first few months of dating: what we earned, what we owed, what we were socking away for our retirements. Some men, and women, would have shriveled from and/or fled such frankness. Crass! Gross! Rude! We’ve both learned a lot, and we’re still learning. The best news he shared with me this year? His FICO score, like mine, is terrific, allowing us some decent choices about what we’ll do next. That’s my kind of pillow talk.

My first husband was a physician, earning more than $130,000 (as far I knew, back when I played fiscal ostrich) in 1994 — when he walked out of our apartment and our brief marriage. I fell far and fast, financially, protected only by a pre-nuptial agreement I’d insisted upon, whose payments allowed me the time I needed to regain my financial footing, find a well-paid, full-time job and meet all my commitments. But everyone was thrilled when I married a doctor — MD can indeed mean Multiple Dollars. His fiscal life since then has been a lot bumpier than mine, even while earning ten times my income.

Talking about money is rarely an easy conversation, but it’s crucial. If Prince Charming is secretly up to his ears in 25% APR credit card debt, do you really want your coach re-possessed?

If Kids Were Taught To Handle Money, Would We All Be This Broke?

Piggybanks.
Image via Wikipedia

Should young kids learn to handle money?

Camp Millionaire, a non-profit based in Santa Barbara, CA,  recently featured in a New York Times photo essay, uses the idea of six money jars: living, savings, freedom, education, play and donating — a simple way to make visible where your money is now going and how you might thoughtfully re-direct it. I really like this idea of making financial choices literal and deliberate, without which they can all so easily end up in a confusing, miserable pile of bills, debt and panic. We recently held a financial summit at our house and our behavior, and spending patterns — many of them habitual — changed the very next day. Not fun, but necessary and overdue.

Here’s a Department of Commerce chart showing how little Americans have been saving for the past decade; in 2001, 2004 and 2005, just over three percent of their incomes. Only now, in 2009, are Americans saving 5 percent.

Here are six tips from one of my favorite money mavens, Suze Orman. As someone who’s been told she’s as cheap as hell (depends what I’m purchasing,) I think kids should learn to handle money as soon as they can differentiate between a nickel and a dime. Financial literacy is the only way to thrive, let alone survive, no matter what your income. Do you know your FICO score? Do you know how to raise it?

How confident are you managing your finances? Who do you turn to, or trust, to help you?