If you’re job hunting, you expect hiring managers to check your resume. You shouldn’t be surprised if potential employers also delve into another aspect of your personal life — your financial history — and turn you down if they don’t like what they see.
That’s why job seekers should know their rights when companies start to scrutinize their credit reports and be ready to deal with unflattering information that could sink an application.
According to US News, 72% of employers conduct background checks as part of background hiring investigations, and 29% of those involve a credit check. To be sure, credit history is not the be-all and end-all of hiring. Two of every three employers say they gave candidates an opportunity to explain their credit histories before making a hiring decision.
Nonetheless, credit checks remain a component of hiring, especially for positions with significant financial responsibilities. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, your credit is most likely to be checked if you’re seeking:
- A job that involves handling cash, banking or accounting.
- A position that provides access to confidential employee information.
- A senior executive role that carries lots of decision-making responsibility.
Credit checks as a barrier to employment
Despite these specific circumstances, credit background checks remain a potentially substantial barrier to employment. According to a survey by the New York research group Demos, 1 in 4 unemployed Americans said a potential employer requested their credit report during the application process, and 1 in 10 said they were not hired because of information in their credit history.
It’s not clear why employers do this, Demos points out, because “there is no proven link between personal credit reports and criminal behavior or performance of a specific job.”
Its research quotes a spokesperson for TransUnion who said in 2010: “We don’t have any research to show any statistical correlation between what’s in somebody’s credit report and their job performance or their likelihood to commit fraud.”
That’s why many states have been pushing back on the practice.
According to ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions and other sources, 11 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) have passed legislation restricting the use of credit checks in making hiring decisions. Efforts were afoot in several major cities to do the same.
In April 2015, for instance, the New York City Council overwhelmingly voted to outlaw the use of “an individual’s consumer credit history in making employment decisions.”
Some exceptions were written into the law, including the use of credit checks for jobs that entail financial agreements valued at $10,000 or more, or positions involving trade secrets, but supporters of the legislation were nonetheless pleased with its contents.
“With this law, NYC is removing an unjustified and discriminatory barrier to jobs, which disproportionately harms New Yorkers of color,” wrote the New Economy Project, an advocacy organization that helped spearhead the passage of this legislation. “The new law not only represents an important civil rights victory but is also the strongest law of its kind in the country … using credit information to make hiring and firing decisions leads to racial exclusion, unjustly blocks employment opportunity and raises major privacy concerns. Plus, credit reports are notoriously riddled with errors.”
6 Ways to Minimize the Impact of Bad Credit on your Employment Prospects
1. Know your rights.
Employers must tell you if credit histories will be used to evaluate job candidates and get written permission to pull your reports. While you have every right to reject that request, the company can use that refusal to reject your application. Good to know, section 525(b) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code prohibits employers from refusing to hire someone because he or she is bankrupt.
2. Know your history.
You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the major credit-reporting agencies. So before you start the job search, visit AnnualCreditReport.com and request your Experian, Equifax and TransUnion files. Read them thoroughly and correct any errors before those credit histories get in the hands of a potential employer.
Errors do occur. According to a study by the Federal Trade Commission, 1 in 5 American consumers found an error that negatively impacted their credit history on a credit report from one of three major credit-reporting companies.
3. Get it in writing.
If an employer is disinclined to hire you because of something in your credit history, he or she must provide a copy of the report and a “Summary of Rights” that explains how to contact the company that provided the report. You are also entitled to a notice that explains your right to dispute the “accuracy or completeness of any information in your report.”
4. Go on the offensive.
If you’ve encountered recent financial difficulties, consider letting an employer know this before the firm pulls your credit report. For instance, if you’ve been a victim of identity theft or your spouse recently lost a job, be up front about this and explain how you’re working to repair any damage that was done. Employers will most likely admire your honesty and forthrightness.
5. Focus on your qualifications for the job.
In all likelihood, even a credit history laden with foreclosures and tax liens won’t be your professional undoing. Once you’ve discussed it, forget about it. Focus on accentuating the many qualities that make you a perfect fit for the job. Invariably that’s what counts the most.
6. Do the right thing.
Now is the time to take corrective action whether you’re looking for a job or not. Catch up with any old bills, and make sure you have a system to promptly pay new ones as they arrive. The only path to a better credit score is consistent, timely, and repeated payments of all debts.