2008-07-22

Sex or Credit?

According to a MarketWatch article discussing several consumer surveys, “Consumers are more likely to talk about sex and the death of a loved one than they are to broach a conversation about their credit.” The article suggests this may be caused by consumers’ discomfort with—and lack of understanding—of credit. Among other things, it notes that consumers were alarmingly ignorant of what goes into their credit scores. One survey indicated that consumers believed their credit scores were based more on income, age, and marital status than how they use credit cards or what their payment history is.

The article’s lead-in on talking about sex versus credit seems to come from a CreditCards.com survey on which topics are the most “taboo.” That survey polled people among a randomly-ordered pre-set list of topics and asked the following question:

Sometimes when people first meet, they're comfortable talking openly about some topics but not others. I'm going to ask your opinion about a series of topics. But first, just assume for a moment that this topic came up between you and that person during a harmless conversation. Please tell me how likely you would be to talk openly to someone you've just met about this topic.

The percentage of respondents stating that they would be somewhat or highly unlikely to discuss the topic breaks down like this:

  1. Amount of credit card debt: 80%
  2. Your love life: 78%
  3. Your salary: 77%
  4. Your housing costs (mortgage or rent): 69%
  5. Your health: 58%
  6. The death of a loved one: 49%
  7. Your weight: 47%
  8. Your religious views: 37%
  9. Your political views: 36%
  10. Your age: 26%
  11. Gas prices: 13%
  12. The weather: 8%

The CreditCards.com article discussing the survey didn’t seem to focus on whether consumers disliked discussing their credit because of their lack of understanding it though. It focused more just on the related stress levels:

Peter Kanaris, coordinator of public education for the New York State Psychological Association and a clinical psychologist in Long Island, says the poll results are a sign of our tough economic times. "What's very interesting is that toward the top of the list it is dominated by financial and money issues except for love life," he says. "What the poll suggests, because of the preponderance of items high on the list being financial, is the sensitivity and emotional stress that people are experiencing around money matters."

The survey also found that women were less willing to discuss many of the topics than men—but the accompanying article suggested that women were more likely to take action to tackle a problem.

As a reader of personal-finance blogs or other personal-finance literature, would you be somewhat or highly unlikely to reveal details like your credit card debt, salary, or housing costs to a person you just met? Any thoughts on why?

I’d be curious to know if it would make a difference if you were not speaking with the person face to face. What if you were speaking on the phone—or more aptly, on e-mail, in an Internet discussion forum, through something like Internet chat or a service like Twitter, or on or through a blog? There do seem to be a proliferation of blogs in which the authors are divulging all of these details publicly—sometimes anonymously but oftentimes not!

On which would you reveal more to a stranger—sex or credit?


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