There was a time not too long ago when talking about women and credit cards would evoke images of fashion divas wielding their plastic to fuel their designer shoe obsession.
That stereotype may be due for a makeover as new studies reveal today’s women to be smart, savvy spenders – and in some ways, even more money mindful than their male counterparts.
In a March 2016 survey by student loan provider Sallie Mae entitled, “Majoring in Money: How American College Students Manage Their Finances,” 800 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 were polled regarding their money management skills and credit usage. “There were some distinct differences between how male and female college students use credit cards, manage money and understand credit,” says Rick Castellano, spokesman for Sallie Mae. And in most cases, women emerged as the smarter s£x.
Here are a few key numbers:
Women make saving a priority, with 61 percent of female college students saying they save money every month as opposed to 52 percent of men.
Women are less likely to blow their budgets, with 66 percent reporting that they don’t spend more money than they have, as compared to 52 percent of men who said the same.
College men carry nearly double the balance on their average monthly credit card bills than women – $1,190 versus $642.
The Sallie Mae survey corresponds to other research by Experian. In an analysis released in March 2016, the credit bureau reported the average credit score among women was 675, 5 points higher than that of men. Experian also found that women carry 3.7 percent less average debt, and have 8.1 percent lower incidence of late mortgage payments.
“What’s compelling about women of this generation as compared to the ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ days is that they are not only equal to men, but are doing some things better when it comes to finances, ” says Ann Fishman, author of “Marketing to the Millennial Woman.” “Managing money is now part of their skill set.”
A number of factors are contributing to women’s credit smarts, says Kimberly Foss, CFP and president of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, California. “The message is getting out there to women at younger ages to establish good credit,” she says. What’s more is that an aversion to debt may be hardwired into women’s DNA. “It’s innate for women to want to avoid debt. Their role is to conserve, and that filters through to money and debt management,” says Foss.
Beyond the “why,” the big question is can men learn a thing or two about good credit habits from women? Here are key ways in which women, in general, are excelling at credit management and how everyone, but especially men, can learn to do the same.
– They are detail-oriented
Clair McLafferty of Birmingham, Alabama, recalls nudging her boyfriend, to whom she’s now married, to pull his credit reports because he hadn’t done so in more than five years.
“There was a one-third drop in the credit limit on his credit card, and he was suspicious, so I encouraged him to follow up,” she says. “He found that his identity had been stolen by not one, but two, people.” It’s quite likely that without her prompting, he may have continued to put off that task and the damage to his credit would have gotten worse.
In general, women usually take on the stereotypical family role of being overprotective, says Fishman, and that can translate to the credit realm as well. “Women are the ones who keep the nest tidy. When their financial house is in order, they feel more comfortable,” she says.
Credit lesson: Keep tabs. Whether it’s tracking spending (which 63 percent of women say they do in the Sallie Mae survey versus 48 percent of men), reviewing credit statements or pulling your credit report semiannually, if you stay on top of your finances, you can nip potential problems in the bud.
– They are more comfortable discussing money
Oftentimes, couples delegate money tasks to one person based on time, interest or the perception of knowledge and expertise, says financial planner Terry J. Siman, managing director at United Capital in Philadelphia. The problem with one party taking over the finances is that important discussions sometimes do not take place before financial decisions are made. “Men are the ones who typically don’t like to have those discussions,” says Siman.
Credit lesson: Have regular money talks. “Men and women speak different languages,” acknowledges Foss, but she says emotionally and financially successful couples find a way to work through that. “Eliminate the emotion behind money,” she suggests. Pull out the spreadsheet and calculator, and look at the budget together. If that leads to tension, bring in a certified financial planner or adviser who can mediate and offer unbiased advice from which you both can benefit.
– They are less impulsive
“Women, in general terms, are able to make more counseled decisions about money,” says Siman. “They are usually the ones who think about the trade-offs that couples have to make. They’ll say: ‘If we want to do this, we can’t have that.’ As a result, they go slower and make better decisions,” he says. Men, on the other hand, are generally more focused on their big picture balance sheets versus their monthly cash-flow statements, so it’s easier to convince themselves they can afford something they really can’t, he adds.
Credit lesson: Slow down. “We do live in a capitalistic society where the greatest marketing minds are trying to get us to act impulsively,” says Siman. That’s why he says anything you can do to take a step back and “sleep on it” before making a large purchase on a credit card, for instance, will likely result in better choices.
– They let fear motivate them
Jenna Glatzer, a New York-based single mother, says that being the sole breadwinner keeps her vigilant about maintaining strong credit. “Not being part of a couple has made me even more careful with my credit. I know that all major purchases will be solely on me – no co-signer or husband who can buy something in his name,” she says.
As such, Glatzer automates as many bills as possible to avoid slip-ups, and monitors her accounts and credit reports carefully. “Now that I’m in the market to buy a new car, I’m really glad I’ve always been this careful,” she adds.
“When you’re on your own and may not have a partner to share a financial adventure with, it can be a great motivator in getting you to learn financial skills,” says Fishman.
And married women who choose more traditional homemaker roles understand that, statistically speaking, they are more likely to outlive their partners or could get divorced, and need to be making financial preparations early on.
Credit lesson: According to the Sallie Mae survey, men are more confident when it comes to finances, with nearly one-third of them calling their money management skills excellent compared to less than one-fifth of women who said the same. While confidence can be a great attribute when it’s controlled, overconfidence can create a false sense of security that leads to taking financial risks that could backfire.
Neither gender scores well on credit …
As far as overall credit knowledge goes, it seems people of both genders still have some work to do. The Sallie Mae survey posed a short three-question quiz on “how credit works” to participants, and just 33 percent of women and 28 percent of men answered them correctly. “I think it’s safe to say, based on this short quiz, both male and female college students could benefit from more education and a deeper understanding of how credit works,” says Castellano.
Whether you agree that women are handling their credit lives better than men or not, recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses can help you achieve stronger credit health. Ultimately, those who put effort into their finances as individuals or as part of a couple will be the ones who come out on top.