By Lou Carlozo
CHICAGO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - You cannot put a price on love, but you can certainly attach a financial number to a suitor.
Jennifer Murtoff, 39, wants to do just that before she accepts her next date. The Chicago freelance editor who helps city people raise fowl in their backyards is asking a question she hopes will help her weed out the losers: "What is your credit score?"
She could find the answer on CreditScoreDating.com, a website where potential dates provide that information.
"You might make $150,000 a year, but are you responsible, and how do you handle your money?" Murtoff says. "I'm looking for someone who can respect my financial values, and a credit score is a great indicator."
Plenty of other people agree. Membership at Wilmington, Delaware-based CreditScoreDating.com has grown to 20,000 from 15,000 in mid-2013.
Founder Niem Green says about 40 percent of his website's users are in their 20s and 30s, with many hailing from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
The age breakdown is somewhat similar to that of Match.com, where 25 percent of members are under 30, but that online dating service, one of the largest in the United States, has far more members at 1.9 million, says its spokeswoman, Cayla Gebhardt.
THREE LITTLE DIGITS
Credit scores are derived from a complex formula that weighs factors such as outstanding debt, payment history and new credit lines. The three-digit number is used to predict the likelihood of delinquency on obligations from credit card bills to a mortgage.
In general, scores of 760 to 850 are considered excellent, while the 720-to-760 range is deemed good, says Ken Lin, founder of San Francisco-based credit and financial monitoring website Credit Karma.
But is creditworthiness really sexy?
"When we first started (CreditScoreDating.com), people thought it was kind of goofy," Green says. "Of course, the economy and everything else was going great. But by 2008, things got very treacherous, and it started to make a lot more sense. And we started to get a lot more members."
Green even has a book coming out next month called "Credit Score Dating: The Phenomenon/The Sexiness of Credit."
There is some evidence to back up the notion of creditworthiness as 21st-century kindling for romance. In its "Credit Score and Dating Report" issued last year, FreeCreditScore.com said 96 percent of women surveyed found financial responsibility attractive in a potential romantic partner, more than those saying they were drawn to physical attractiveness (87 percent) or career ambition (also 87 percent).
Further, credit scores are significantly more important to women (75 percent) than men (57 percent).
"What makes it more comfortable as a measure is that it's agnostic to wealth," says Ken Chaplin, a senior vice president at FreeCreditScore.com. "It's more about the person's character and how responsible they are."
NOT ALL THERE IS
Although having similar credit scores could theoretically increase the chances of compatibility, it does not work that way in real life, says Los Angeles-based psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, author of "Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets."
"People who go to a dating site based on credit scores are putting an emphasis on financial compatibility over other aspects of relationships that are at least equally important, if not more important," Lieberman says.
Well, at least they are not paying anything for the privilege thus far. CreditScoreDating.com is free to join, although Green plans to start charging a monthly subscription fee in the summer, in conjunction with a website revamp and a new smartphone app.
Alas, all dating sites are vulnerable to lies told by the lovers who use them. And when it comes to credit scores, Green knows how tempting it is to bend the truth, which is why he wants to get a third party involved to verify what members say.
While no marriages have come out of CreditScoreDating.com, folks like Paisley Stanton of Philadelphia report positive experiences there. The 35-year-old hair stylist is a single mother, and her marriage ended in 2009 partly because of financial issues.
"It's a deal breaker for me," Stanton says. "To hire a babysitter for someone who is a bad candidate ... it's a bad investment."