March 24, 2009 -- Forget sex appeal, shared interests or a good sense of humor.
The latest criteria for finding that perfect date might just be a good credit score.
Personal finance guru Suze Orman recently told Oprah Winfrey and her audience: "Before you get involved in a relationship or anything, FICO first, then sex."
"That's a new dating question," said Oprah, "'What's your FICO score?'"
The number of people seeking a match during this recession is up, but apparently with many Americans focused on the economy and household finances, more lonely hearts are thinking about prospective mates and their money.
Experts say that daters often want to know how well their potential matches handle their finances.
"Financial stability is one of those markers that somebody is responsible and mature," said James Houran, a relationship psychologist and columnist for onlinedatingmagazine.com. "Men tend to treat women the way they treat money. Women know this, and they'll look to see how do you treat your mom and how do you treat your money."
Somebody who is careless with their cash tends to focus on short-term gains rather than long-term benefits.
Then there are people who are out to make money, just for the love of money. They typically don't have room in their lives for another love.
"Those people have a higher libido, they have a lower tendency to be faithful and they have a higher tendency to be jealous," Houran said. "It's a control issue. Men want to control money, and that carries over to their personal life as well."
Dating site Match.com said that 84 percent of its members questioned said they had become more selective about their first dates during a down economy. And yes, they were thinking about their potential mate's financial situation, although most seemed open to a little financial wiggle room: Seventy-one percent said that they would still date someone who'd just lost their job.
There is even an online dating service (although it existed a few years before the recession) called CreditScoreDating.Com. The site's motto: Credit Scores Are Sexy.
The old saw was that women were more concerned about men's incomes. But in the last few years, men have started to take more interest in women's incomes and "what she could bring to the table," according to Judy Kuriansky, a clinical psychologist who once had a call-in radio advice show called Love Phones.
Concern over money has always existed, she said, but once the recession hit, it intensified.
She said people always wanted to ask about money, children and sex, but before the recession, the money question was "totally taboo."
"To some extent, this has eased the ability of people to bring up the subject," Kuriansky said. "This is something that's been triggered because there's been so much media exposure."
Of course, money allows people to show a date a good time. Some of the single bankers on Wall Street can no longer afford to wow dates with fancy dinners, Kuriansky said. For some, that has really hurt their self-esteem.
But the real impact has come with single parents who are looking out for the kids and wondering if they can send them off to college. That group, Kuriansky said, is discussing finances more than any others.
Money has always been an issue in dating, according to Murray A. Straus, a professor of sociology and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.
"This may say crass to you, but people trade off their assets. So a man with money trades that for a woman of beauty," Straus said. "Women use their attractiveness to get a mate that has the economic resources for a good life.
"People generally look for someone who is like them and that doesn't matter whether it's money, education, IQ, religion or beliefs and values," he added. "We also know that marriages are more successful when people are more alike at the time of marriage."
Duane Dahl, CEO of Perfectmatch.com, said that more users of the site today are asking questions to his relationship experts about their mate's finances. Those questions are coming up now at the same point as ones about desire to have kids and talking about past relationships.
"A lot of the questions are really around timing," Dahl said. "What's the best time to talk about finances and what's appropriate? It becomes similar to some of those other early-stage conversations."
"What the recession has done is reinforced the importance of finance and money and the effect on a relationship," he said.
Diane Mapes, author of "How to Date in a Post-Dating World," said that people are always seeking mates who aren't lazy and have a good work ethic. The change is that people are now talking more about it.
"Right now everybody and their brother is out of work, or losing a job or knows someone who is out of work. The topic is in the air, so people are talking about it a lot," Mapes said. "As the screws tighten financially on all of us, these topics come up more."
She hasn't heard much talk about dates looking for credit scores, but "I have talked to people who will be concerned if the person has health insurance or not, and that will make a difference if they will go out with them or not."