How to Handle a Job Applicant Credit Check

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Many organizations run credit checks on job applicants and use that information as part of a background check when making hiring decisions.

A Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey indicated that 34% of employers check the credit of at least some job applicants. Only 13% of the employers in the survey ran credit checks on all applicants. A more common practice was checking the credit history of finalists and using this information to rule out candidates with questionable backgrounds.

What's Included in a Job Applicant Credit Check

A job applicant credit report will show details about you and your finances, including your name, address, previous addresses, and social security number. The report will not contain your age or precise credit score.

It also shows the debt you have incurred including credit card debt, mortgage, car payment, student loans, and other loans. Your payment history is disclosed, including late payments and defaulted loans.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act Guidelines

The Fair Credit Reporting Act is a federal law placing restrictions on employers’ rights to check your credit during the hiring process. Before a company can check your credit, they need your permission.

If a credit report impacts a hiring decision, the employer is required to inform the applicant. The candidate has the opportunity to contact the credit agency and correct any inaccurate information.

Once you learn that a company will be running a credit check, there are ways you can let your prospective employer know that there may be issues with your credit. It's better to be proactive and at least have a chance to explain, and hopefully be able to continue in the application process. If a company finds out by surprise that you have credit problems, you have probably lost your chance at the job.

How to Handle a Job Applicant Credit Check

Prepare ahead of time so that you can handle any issues that come up during a job hiring process with regard to your credit history, and know how you should respond.

  • Familiarize yourself with the information contained in your credit report, especially any negative or incorrect notations.
  • Attempt to correct the negative information in your credit report prior to seeking employment.
  • If an employer informs you that they will conduct a credit check that you know will reveal damaging information, be prepared to decide between withdrawing your application for employment or pursuing the job. Pursuing the job may still be an option, especially if you have taken measures to improve how you manage your finances since the negative notations in your report. Be sure to mention how you are addressing the situation to the employer when discussing the credit check.
  • If you are denied employment based on information on the credit report, speak to the employer to see if you may re-apply after addressing their concerns.

Legal Issues With Credit Checks

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees employer practices regarding applicant credit checks. If you suspect that a credit check by an employer has an impact on you as a candidate due to race, ethnicity, age, or gender, you can report the potentially offending organization to the EEOC. 

Most states allow employers to use credit reports in a fair and equitable manner within the hiring process. However, some states have regulated the use of credit reports and place restrictions on how the information can be utilized by employers.

States including California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, have statutes on the books limiting the use of credit reports. The District of Columbia also restricts employers from discriminating against an employee or a job applicant based on their credit report information.

In these states, the use of credit checks is often restricted to specified occupations or situations where financial transactions or confidential information are involved. Many other states have legislation pending that might prohibit the use of credit reports by employers or place restrictions upon their use.

Know your own area's laws. Some localities have restrictions and prohibitions on job applicant credit checks. For example, New York City prohibits credit checks on most job applicants. Exceptions include top-level executive candidates with fiduciary responsibilities and applicants who would manage assets or oversee financial agreements worth over $10,000. Contact your State Department of Labor for information about how current laws apply to your location.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.