Bad credit can happen to good people. Often all it takes is a financial misstep here or medical emergency there and the average American could easily make a late payment, miss a payment, or fall behind all together on their bills. While there is usually a unique personal story, and often a very good reason, rarely are individual circumstances a factor when your credit score is calculated.
Now more than ever it’s important for individuals to know their credit scores; but apparently private citizens aren’t the only ones who need to know the three digit score that’s become the “grade” you’re given based on your on-going financial behavior.
Recently a very gutsy newspaper in Toledo, Ohio challenged both Republican and Democrat City Counsel candidates to “show their cards,” by giving access to their credit reports and credit scores for the voting public to see.
This raises a very interesting question; would an elected official’s credit score affect your vote?
I began to think about the potential precedent that this challenge would set if all political candidates were asked to “come clean” with this information. Sure we’re used to seeing their tax returns and knowing how much they make, but somehow this seems different, bigger, and more profound.
Credit scores are used by several groups to determine financial patterns, habits and in some cases even your character. They’re also used to predict the likelihood of your repeating these patterns in the future.
In general credit scores range from 300 (low) to 850 (very high) and everywhere in between. There is still some mystery around how a score is calculated and what factors are involved. One thing is for sure, this is a number you need to know and watch. Everyone from your current creditors to your car insurance company are checking it periodically to see where you “rank,” a low score could result in rate increases.
It’s obvious that as individuals we’re “deemed worthy” (creditworthy that is) by our credit score on a regular bases. Should the same standards be applied to those we choose to run our cities, states and even this country?
To get a broader perspective on this Pandora’s boxlike question I did a bit of research on the overall impact of credit reports and credit scores on an individuals life and came to learn that, according to a Federal Trade Commission Consumer Alert, “Employers often use a credit report when they hire and evaluate employees for promotion, reassignment or retention.”
While to some it might seem unfair or like “big brother” is watching just a little to close, often this practice is widely justified, especially in the wake of Enron, corporate scandals and 9-11. Employers are learning that they can tell a lot about a job candidate and their probability to be a quality employee by their credit report and credit score.
Credit scores have the power to be the Varsity letter you wear proudly on your jacket or the Scarlet Letter you wear shamefully on your chest. Given the weight it has on so many aspects of an individuals life, is it fair or even necessary to require political candidates to disclose theirs?
The question will no doubt be debated at water coolers, and in bars, dining rooms, even campaign war rooms all throughout the city of Toledo. I’m in New Jersey (where several candidates are running in heated battles as I write this) and I’ll be just as intrigued to learn if this fizzles out, or catches fire as a new trend.
It appears to me that the real question voters in Toledo (and soon maybe everywhere) have to ask themselves will be, “Is a credit score (determined by a complex formula that no one seems to quite understand and that doesn’t take individual circumstances into consideration) really a good barometer for a political candidates ability to lead or do the job?”
Maybe. Maybe not. But before you form your opinion, I invite you to ask yourself a question. Given your personal financial situation, past or present, how many votes would be cast in your favor if your credit report was used to judge your character or ability to do the job?