Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
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You know that bad credit can determine whether you'll qualify for a loan or credit card—and whether you'll pay high interest if you are approved. But you may not realize that your credit could also be a factor to employers looking to hire.
Employers may check your credit report with your written permission when you apply for a job. They won't, however, have access to your credit score. Employers that check credit reports do so to assess an applicant's money management abilities, potential for security threats and responsibility. Just as you can get a credit card with bad credit, you can still get a job with bad credit, but some employers may weigh your credit history more heavily for certain positions. If you are applying for a financial or managerial role, for example, or you want to work with the military or in a security position, negative marks on a credit report could potentially hurt your chances.
Different states have varying laws about how credit reports can be accessed, and bad credit is unlikely to disqualify you for most jobs. Several states even ban the practice in many cases. Experian strongly recommends that employers not make hiring decisions based solely on credit histories, but on a more comprehensive view of job candidates.
Still, it helps to understand exactly what prospective employers are allowed to see on your report and how it might affect you.
Can Employers Check Your Credit?
Employers can request access to your credit report, but they must first get your written permission. If you give them the go-ahead, they'll see some details of your credit history, but they will not see your credit score. They also receive a different, limited version of the report than what a lender would see when you apply for a loan or credit card.
The employer copy shows your Social Security number for verification purposes, but it does not reveal your birthday or other personal information. The report includes your payment history, account balances, any late payments and credit issues such as bankruptcy or foreclosure, but not your account numbers. The report a lender receives has had any information removed that is prohibited by equal employment opportunity regulations.
Because an employer isn't pulling your report to make a lending decision, they won't see in-depth personal or account information. Your account activity, however, is usually enough to indicate a history of money management, which may be relevant to the position for which you've applied.
Again, a credit check likely won't affect your chances of getting a job unless you're pursuing a financial or management position or may be privy to sensitive information. If you plan to work with a company's finances, the hiring managers want to make sure you handle money responsibly. They may also factor in your credit history if they're trying to determine whether you can manage large and complex projects.
Background Checks and Employees' Rights
Whether an employer decides to hire you is up to them. But you still have rights, especially when it comes to your credit report. Employers can run a background check as part of the application process, which may include pulling your credit report as well. However, they must abide by the rules set out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which include a number of protections for consumers.
Employers are obligated to:
- Get your permission before running a credit check. A prospective employer must explicitly state that they want to pull your credit as part of a background check, and you have to give the OK before they can access that information. The law requires that they explain the background and credit check requirement in a document separate from their standard job application so that you understand how the information will be used. You must sign a separate form giving the employer permission to access your credit report. If you agree to the check, it's a good idea to ask whether you're consenting to a one-time check or to routine checks throughout your employment, if you get the job. Some states require that employers give you a copy of your report, regardless of whether they hire you.
- Tell you if they don't hire you because of your credit. Employers must inform you if your credit was a factor in your disqualification, and they're legally obligated to share with you the credit report they viewed. They're also required to provide you a summary of your FCRA rights. If you're turned down for a job because of your credit, take the time to review the provided credit report to better understand where you need to improve in order to qualify for future roles.
- Give you an opportunity to dispute the report. You have the right to review your credit report and dispute any inaccuracies that may have influenced the hiring decision. In addition to responding to the company's decision, you'll likely want to file a dispute with the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) as well, so future employers and lenders don't also receive incorrect information about your credit.
The extent to which employers can use a credit report in hiring decisions also varies from state to state. The following states prohibit companies from making hiring decisions based solely on credit:
- Delaware (restriction only applies to public employers)
In New York City and Chicago, employers are barred from using credit checks altogether. To learn more about your rights where you live, you can contact your local department of labor.
You don't have to worry about an employer credit check hurting your credit score. These checks are considered soft inquiries, which are not factored into credit score calculations. They're different from a hard inquiry that may appear when you apply for a credit account or loan. Hard inquiries have the potential to bring down your credit score by a few points.
Review Your Credit Report for Accuracy
Whether you're actively looking for a job or are just concerned about how your credit will affect your career path down the road, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on your credit report.
And even though your credit score won't affect your job prospects, it could determine whether you qualify for a mortgage or pay high interest on a new credit card.
You're normally entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. Through April 2021, however, you can get a free copy of your reports once a week. Once you receive your reports, it's smart to review all of the information carefully to ensure your personal data and account activities have been accurately reported by your lenders.
If something doesn't look right, you can contact the lender directly or file a dispute with the credit bureau that maintains the report. It's important to review each report individually because the data included may vary slightly, and one bureau may show something that the other two don't. If you find an issue across all three, you'll need to contact every bureau to file a dispute and have the problem removed.
You can file a dispute claim online, over the phone or through the mail, each bureau has its own dispute process. With Experian, you can create an account online and file a dispute through the Dispute Center. If Experian is unable to verify your identity, you may be asked to provide documentation or additional information before Experian can process the request. Experian typically resolves dispute claims within 30 days.
If you're not sure what's in your credit file and you want more insight into your credit health, get your free credit report and score directly through Experian. Experian can also help you monitor your credit and provides instant alerts when new or suspicious activity appears on your accounts.
Monitoring your credit report empowers you to identify areas for improvement and build strong financial habits. Over time, your credit history can grow stronger as you make on-time bill payments and carefully track your spending to make sure you keep your credit balances low. If you're looking for an extra push, Experian Boost®ø can add on-time payments such as your cellphone, utility and streaming services bills to your credit report, which can give your Experian credit scores an instant lift.
These tools and more can help you become more financially savvy, and increase your appeal to future employers and lenders.