Depending on the type of job, your credit history can be used to determine your hireability.
More and more employers are using employment background check services, including credit history checks, as a way to ensure they’re making good hiring decisions.
For small businesses, large businesses, and even companies in the sharing economy, background checks are the standard best practice. If you’re applying for a new job, the chances are good that you’ll be asked to consent to a background check at some point during the process.
In addition to verifying your identity, searching for criminal history, and checking your driving record, employers may also have the option to run a credit check, depending on the role, where you will be working, and often whether it comes with fiduciary responsibilities.
A credit check is different from a credit score. Your credit score is simply a three-digit measure of your overall credit health; a credit report provides details about your credit history, balances, available credit, and past payments. It is important to note that your credit score is not provided to employers when a credit report is requested for employment purposes.
Credit checks are predominately conducted for roles with financial responsibilities or where an employee has unsupervised access to cash or valuables, including trade secrets.
Why Do Employers Run Credit Checks?
Employers run credit checks for two primary reasons: security and responsibility.
Security: For security purposes, credit reports help verify an individual’s identity and background, both of which are essential components of a background check.
Responsibility: A clean credit report indicates good financial responsibility. Employers are looking for candidates with integrity who can be trusted to fulfill their duties.
A credit history demonstrating overall personal financial responsibility can be important to employers looking for candidates who possess this attribute.
What Potential Concerns Might an Employer See on Your Credit Report?
Employers who review your credit report may view the following as potential problem areas:
- Employment history: While employment information on a credit report can be highly inaccurate and is rarely used in hiring decisions, wrong or conflicting information could be seen as a possible concern by a potential employer.
- Late payments: A pattern of late payments is a big red flag. It can indicate any number of things about your character to a potential employer, including an inability to budget and an inability to meet deadlines.
- Charge offs and debt collection: Creditors may charge off your loan if you have not made a payment in over 180 days. They can then attempt to collect themselves or sell the debt to a collection agency. The presence of this type of activity on your credit report communicates possible financial distress to your employer, a potential security risk, as well as irresponsibility.
- Foreclosures: It’s challenging to put a positive spin on walking away from big problems. You need to be prepared to explain what led to these choices in order to put a potential employer more at ease.
- Liens: Liens are another sign of irresponsibility as well as an indicator that you have not been resourceful enough to negotiate a settlement.
- Lawsuits and judgments: Creditors can sue you for unpaid debt and these suits will stay on your credit report for seven years.
What Can You Do to Prepare for a Credit Check?
First, take a deep breath. Most employers understand that bad things happen to good people; many of them may have experienced credit issues of their own. Remember the following:
- If they are running a credit check on you, they are interested in you. They wouldn’t spend the time or the money to do the screening if you hadn’t impressed them already. That’s good news.
- Many of the things you might be concerned about won’t even phase the employer. In most cases, they are primarily looking for outright dishonesty or signs of financial irresponsibility that may disqualify you for the position or pose an unacceptable risk.
Beyond that, you can do three important things to take the stress out of the process.
First, check your credit report regularly so you know what’s in it.
The Fair Credit and Reporting Act entitles you to obtain one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus. Take advantage of this; it’s your information, so be responsible for it. Running your own report means you know exactly what’s on it before an employer sees it and gives you a chance to prepare for any questions that might arise.
Second, fix any errors you find.
It’s not at all uncommon for credit reports to contain errors. (That’s why you need to check yours regularly.) Contact the credit reporting agency directly to clear up discrepancies.
And third, make sure that all the information you provide to the employer is honest and correct so that the credit report doesn’t include any surprises.
Credit Checks as Part of the Bigger Screening Picture
Credit checks are just one piece of the bigger employment background screening process. Depending on the employer and the position, you might expect a check of your motor vehicle report, your social security number, or your criminal history as well.
If you’ve lived or worked outside of the United States, you may need to undergo an international background check. The above advice holds true for all these checks; run the reports yourself, fix any errors, and always be upfront and honest with any potential employer.
The Importance of Good Credit
Not every employer will check your credit report, but it’s important to be prepared. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to be financially responsible, including:
- Paying bills on time
- Managing debt wisely
- Negotiating and settling any outstanding issues
Even if your credit report is less than stellar, don’t fret. Nothing stays on your credit report forever; with diligence and effort, you can have a clean credit report in your future.
The Cares Act
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump in March 2020, provides additional credit reporting protections to consumers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress included rules in the Cares Act to help consumers struggling to pay their debts on time. For more information, visit https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/protecting-your-credit-during-coronavirus-pandemic/