NEW YORK (Reuters) - All this time you thought your romantic appeal was due to your clothes, your looks or your charming personality.
Turns out, all you had to do was cut up your credit card.
Almost half of Americans, or 49 percent, find credit-card debt a turnoff in a potential partner, according to a new survey by personal-finance site NerdWallet.
Women, in particular, are wary of someone buried in bills, with 51 percent (compared with 46 percent for men) saying, “Sorry, not interested.”
“People just don’t want to enter into a relationship with someone with debt,” said Sean McQuay, NerdWallet’s credit card expert. “Individuals should always be looking to pay down debts, but that apparently goes double if you are looking for a relationship. You are making yourself more marketable.”
Simply put, credit-card debt is not sexy. NerdWallet found that 70 percent of Americans think there is a nasty stigma surrounding it, versus other kinds of “good” debt like a home mortgage or student loans.
That is why 35 percent say they are embarrassed to even admit how much they owe on their plastic, and 43 percent say they feel judged by friends and family.
Are we really so calculating in making our romantic choices, though? After all, almost all of us have grappled with credit-card debt at one time or another in our lives. And presumably human connection is more than numbers in a ledger.
Besides, the average American household owes $15,355 on credit cards. If everyone has faced similar struggles, we are hardly in a position to be holier-than-thou in our romantic lives.
Yet singles polled on social media say they would “swipe left” as users do on the dating app Tinder to decline interest.
“Absolutely.” “Total buzzkill.” “Oh my God, are you kidding? There’s hardly a bigger dealbreaker.”
Not necessarily because of the debt itself, but because of what it might symbolize: Irresponsibility, self-control issues, a lack of foresight. Potential partners might also fear being on the hook for whatever debts you have accumulated.
Of course, people can change their financial habits, and do. But it is better to go into relationships with eyes wide open, and recognize fatal money mismatches earlier rather than later.
“Keep a partner with bad credit and debt at arm’s length until they show true progress in reforming,” suggests LaKhaun McKinley, a financial planner in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Bad credit and poor money management won’t just go away. The marriage likely wouldn’t last.”
The dating situation is worse if you are over 65 with credit-card debt.
Sixty-two percent of seniors in the NerdWallet survey said they would take a pass on you as a romantic partner. In comparison, only 46 percent of millennials said credit-card debt would make them block your calls.
While millennials have decades to bounce back from any debt problems, seniors have no such luxury. “Taking on big debts at that age, it’s not like you have lots of time and job opportunities to make that money back,” McQuay says. “So they decide it’s just not worth it.”
This may all sound a tad cold, for true believers in romantic love. But take a minute and perform autopsies on your own failed relationships in the past. You might discover that finances - how you both spend and save - played a role in how things fell apart.
“Shaky finances become the third person who tags along and looms over every purchase,” says Michelle Payer, a lifestyle journalist in Miami. “If I am held back from doing things I love because of a boyfriend’s bad decisions, the relationship is doomed.”
The key takeaway: If you have been unlucky in love and are looking for an edge in the dating world, forget the cologne or the cheesy pickup line.
Just pay your bills. It’s much sexier than you think.
Editing by Lauren Young and Lisa Shumaker