August 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Talking finances can heat up a relationship

Recession put romance in credit scores, savings plans, experts say

Detroit News photo illustration)

Financial planning may seem like an unlikely source of romance.

But it turns out that swapping credit scores and setting savings goals is one of the best ways to build attraction.

At least that is the finding of a recent survey by the consumer services division of Experian, the large credit-reporting agency. The company polled about 1,000 married adults in April and compared the results with a survey of a similar number of single adults from 2013.

For both groups, financial compatibility was the second-most appealing quality of a mate, behind like-minded personalities. (Physical attractiveness and career ambition ranked third and fourth, respectively.)

In addition, among married couples, 63 percent of men and 70 percent of women said they found their spouses more attractive if the couple talked about money at least once a month.

“That was really an unexpected finding for us,” said Becky Frost, senior manager of consumer education at Experian.

It may also be surprising to anyone (read: everyone) who has ever had a heated money-related discussion with a significant other.

But Frost believes that the 2007-09 financial meltdown forced money issues to the forefront of couples’ conversations, and that the discussions haven’t stopped since then.

In fact, the survey found that couples who married after 2008 were more likely to talk about money than those who married before the crash.

For example, 61 percent of “post-recession couples” reported having discussed their credit scores before marriage, compared with only 35 percent of those who got hitched before the recession.

Some financial planners said they’re seeing plenty of evidence of the trend in their offices.

Chris Knight, a financial planner in North Carolina, said he works with one married couple who ran short of cash when the recession hit.

“They didn’t know how much they were spending,” Knight said. “Now, every month they send an email with their expenses, and we meet every six months to look at it all. They’re both here and they’re both engaged.”

To make sure the conversations stay positive, though, planners said it’s important to follow a few steps. First, find neutral ground.

“I’ve found that most couples tend to ambush one another with the money conversation,” said Brittney Castro, founder of Financially Wise Women, a planning firm in Los Angeles. “You get home from work, you’re exhausted, and then comes the attack: ‘We need to save more money. You’re spending too much.’ That’s not a healthy conversation.”

Instead, Castro and other planners suggest setting up regular money dates in which you can talk about the budget, set financial goals and air concerns.

By scheduling a specific time, both partners can be prepared for the conversation. And by talking regularly, you can tackle issues head-on.

“Over time, your relationship with money improves, and therefore your relationship with one another probably improves,” Castro said.

Also, share your money histories. Did your parents fight about money when you were growing up? Did you have to live within a strict budget?

“You’ll work better as a team once you understand each other’s financial ancestry,” said Lisa Peterson, a financial planner in Boston who offers a four-week financial counseling workshop called UniteBright for newlyweds and engaged couples.

The conversations may reveal things about your significant other that you find less than ideal _ say, he’s a natural-born spender, while you’ve saved 10 cents of every dollar since the eighth grade.

That’s OK. The key is to figure out these differences before they lead to big misunderstandings.

“It seems to be more the rule than the exception that people have different viewpoints about money,” said Trent Porter, a financial planner in Denver. “So the goal is not to think the same way, but to get an understanding of the other person’s viewpoint. Then, find a compromise.”

Doing so with your partner will likely make your finances, and your attraction for one another, stronger.