NEW YORK — As she nibbled on strawberry shortcake, Jessica LaShawn, a flight attendant from Chicago, tried not to get ahead of herself and imagine this first date turning into another and another, and maybe, at some point, a glimmering diamond ring and then happily ever after.
Her musings were suddenly interrupted when her date asked a decidedly unromantic question: ‘‘What’s your credit score?’’
“It was as if the music stopped,’’ said LaShawn, 31, recalling how the date this year went so wrong so quickly after she tried to answer his question honestly.
‘‘It was really awkward because he kept telling me that I was the perfect girl for him, but that a low credit score was his deal-breaker.’’
The credit score, once a little-known metric derived from a complex formula that incorporates outstanding debt and payment histories, has become an increasingly important number used to bestow credit, determine housing, and even distinguish between job candidates.
It is so widely used that it has also become a bigger factor in dating decisions — sometimes eclipsing more traditional factors like a good job, shared interests, and physical chemistry, according to interviews with more than 50 daters across the country.
‘‘Credit scores are like the dating equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease test,’’ said Manisha Thakor, founder and chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management, a financial advisory firm.
Executives who run online financial forums say that topics about credit and dating receive hundreds of responses within minutes of being posted. Alexa von Tobel, founder and chief executive of Learnvest.com, a financial planning firm, said that members are more interested in credit scores than ever before.
“It’s the only grade that matters after you graduate,’’ she said.
Josephine La Bella, 25, who works at a payroll company, likes to tackle the delicate subject head-on.
“I take my credit score seriously, and so my date can take me seriously,’’ she said.
Dating someone with poor credit can have real implications. Banks remain wary of making loans to borrowers with tarnished scores, typically 660 and below; the best scores range from 800 to 850, and scores above 750 are considered good. A low score could quash dreams of buying a house and result in steep interest rates, up to 29 percent, for credit cards, car financing, and other unsecured loans.
Days after her failed date, LaShawn said, she got an apologetic text message. Her date reiterated that the problem ‘‘wasn’t me, it was my credit score.’’