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Give love some credit: Financial responsibility counts more than looks

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In post-recession courtships, the ability to successfully manage money makes both men and women more appealing – even sexy.

When asked about important qualities in a potential partner, 95 percent rated "financial responsibility" as important. It carried greater weight than physical attractiveness (rated as important by 86 percent) or career ambitions (77 percent).

The findings come from a new survey from Experian Consumer Services. The survey results come from April interviews with 1,010 adults nationwide and finds that half of married adults of both genders say credit scores were important to them when choosing a spouse. When asked how important it is to have similar goals, married adults ranked financial compatibility slightly higher than sex and intimacy.

“Survey findings show that once someone identifies a compatible partner, his or her next thought is about how that person manages personal finances, and credit plays a key role in that scenario,” said Ken Chaplin, Experian senior vice president.

A review of the survey by CNN Money found that the economic downturn has invigorated the money conversation couples have before marrying. More than 60 percent of couples who married in 2008 or later discussed their credit score before the wedding, compared to 35 percent of pre-recession couples.

A 2012 New York Times story headlined "Perfect 10? Never mind that. Ask her for her credit score," said singles had become more interested in the credit score of people they were dating, even casually. In interviews with more than 50 under-40 singles, the Times found the credit score eclipsed factors like a good job, shared interests and physical chemistry.

"Dating someone with poor credit can have real implications," the story noted. "A low score could quash dreams of buying a house, and result in steep interest rates, up to 29 percent, for credit cards, car financing and other unsecured loans. A middling credit score can also torpedo an application for an apartment and drive up the cost of cellphone plans and auto insurance."

A story last year in Forbes magazine encouraged daters to ask about credit scores sooner rather than later. "Asking about a credit score on the first date and using the credit score as a proxy for the quality of an attitude towards money and responsibility is one way to prevent reaching the point where the relationship has progressed too far," the story said, but noted that a credit score is just one clue and should not rule out potential partners.

"A good credit score says someone has not made any grave financial missteps, while a bad credit score, by itself, is a little more ambiguous. It could mean someone has a record of bad financial habits," the story said. "It could mean they have more credit card debt than they can handle. But it could also mean they trusted a family member when co-signing a loan. There’s even the possibility that a family member used and destroyed their credit without their knowledge, and they were unable to work with the credit reporting agencies to change the report."

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