Have you been running into people this past year who have political voter’s remorse? I have. Regardless of ideological bent, voters seem to be more perplexed today than ever about how to assess the authenticity and potential of political candidates. We want to trust; we need to trust. But can we? Voters seem to be left with the same feeling as that of new car buyers as they leave the auto dealership after signing the bottom line. Did I do the right thing?
To help voters evaluate the worthiness of a person’s political aptitude, I’d like to make a proposal. It’s a relatively easy idea that would help voters size up the trustworthiness of political candidates, and I think it is long overdue: the proposal is that political candidates voluntarily disclose their credit score. Personally, I don’t care what the income of a candidate is. I want to know if they are responsible for paying their bills and how they make financial decisions about things that matter. Disclosing one’s credit report — information that is already accessible to your mortgage lender, your automobile finance department and your prospective boss (with permission from the applicant) among others — would be one of the most effective methods of assessing the trustworthiness of a political candidate. I’d like voters to ask and political candidates to prepare to answer the question: “What is your financial credit score?”
Credit scores are a numerical analysis of the information contained in a credit report. Most credit scores operate within the range of 300-850. Although not set in stone and dependent on the lender, credit scores above 800 are considered exceptional, 740-799 very good, 670-739 good, 580-669 fair and 300-579 very poor. Averaged out, most consumer credit scores fall into the 600-750 range. Most people with low credit scores have histories of making late payments or failing to pay at all. Most often, those with low scores have had a number of delinquencies, which leads to default combined with high utilization on their available credit. Ultimately, guess who pays the tab?
Historically, financial matters have been personal and opaque. But the days of a promise and a handshake are over. We seem to know more about a political candidate’s marital and medical histories than their financial literacy skills. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know if those who draw up your laws and decide how government spends your money have histories that demonstrate financial responsibility?
When I served on the Utah Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee, part of the required disclosures included rather detailed financial histories of the judicial candidates. Of course, the information was highly confidential and each of us serving in the capacity of screening candidates for the judicial bench held the information very close to the vest, immediately returning the applications to proper personnel once the hearing ended. But I found it interesting that one’s history of managing money is a significant component of measuring whether a person is fit to judge others.
Financial responsibility is one of the most important things we can live by and to teach our family members. A good credit report gets you better interest rates on home mortgages, car loans and insurance, and it may be the deciding factor in renting a home and securing the job you have always dreamed of. In fact, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 47 percent of employers check potential employees’ credit reports as part of the hiring process. Businesses looking to hire often pull credit reports on job candidates. Why? Because employees will be driving company cars, using company cellphones and will often be working with sensitive information or with money. They want employees that have demonstrated financial restraint and responsibility. Importantly, business personnel executives often use a credit report as the differentiating factor when prospective hires have similar qualifications.
As part of a political campaign message, if political candidates volunteered their credit report, assuming it is favorable, it would build trust with voters and it might motivate potential candidates to clean up their act prior to throwing their hat into the political arena. Voters should know up front if a political candidate has liens, has filed bankruptcy, experienced a home foreclosure, maxed out available credit, or fails to pay his or her bills. All of those activities negatively impact a credit score. On the flip side, disclosing a positive credit report tells voters that their representative knows how to budget, is good at prioritizing and finds value in living within his or her means.
If employers can request a credit report — and they do — voters should also be curious. Public officials are our hires. Let’s hold them to the same standard.
Patricia W. Jones is CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute, a 501(c)3 based at the Salt Lake Chamber. She was a co-founder and former president of Dan Jones & Associates. She served in both the Utah House and Senate for a total of 14 years, holding leadership positions 12 of those 14 years. She was elected minority leader of the Senate in 2008, the first woman of either party elected to lead a caucus in the Utah Legislature.