We all know that our personal credit history affects our ability to secure a home loan or open an account at a department store. But most Americans are unaware that bad credit could cost them a job.
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Many employers use credit history as a tool in their pre-employment screening as just one measure of judgment and character. If you can't manage your financial obligations, they wonder if it's a sign of irresponsibility. If your monthly debt payment is higher than your salary, some employers worry that it may distract from your performance.
Critics of this practice say it's unfair for personal credit history to be used when judging professional qualifications. They say there's no link between poor credit and job performance. Many of these people have hit rough patches, and now they're caught in a vicious cycle: To pay down their debt, they need a job, but they can't get hired because of their debt.
The majority of employers today use some form of background check as part of their due diligence — not because they're interested in prying or playing gotcha. By the time they move forward with a background check, they've decided they want you. So whether it's verifying your education and work history, a drug test, checking your criminal history or even your credit, they're genuinely hoping that everything checks out.
When it comes to credit history — specifically the amount of debt and the number of delinquencies and negative accounts — some positions will have firm standards in black and white. If your credit is weak, you can expect a red flag, which might include losing the offer , if your role requires you to be involved in finances — a cashier, payroll manager, financial planner or senior financial executive, for example.
The same applies if you're handling expensive jewelry or other small valuables, if you have access to trade secrets or if you're a key holder, someone who opens and closes a store and has access to cash and merchandise. Almost always in those cases, you can expect a credit check. But it's by no means limited solely to those areas; employers use their own discretion when deciding which positions to screen.
Beyond that, if you're in a position that involves high security or access to cash and valuables, you may be subject to recurring background checks while on the job. Ask your employer directly about its policies.
Read the fine print. Under federal law, prospective employees must give permission for employers to conduct background checks, including credit checks, so none of this happens behind our backs.
Yet some 80 percent of Americans, according to a Visa survey, don't realize that credit history can be used in pre-employment screening. Whenever you sign an employment application, read the fine print. Most of the time, you're signing a consent and disclosure clause that grants your permission to the employer and its designated third party vendor(s) to conduct a background check. Be aware of what exactly you're agreeing to upfront.
Bad credit, now what? If you have poor credit, it doesn't automatically mean you're unemployable. You should focus on three steps so you don't lose out on positions.