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Many employers, especially when hiring for positions that include financial management, perform credit checks on job candidates before making employment offers. Employers can use credit report information to verify identity and may look for signs of excessive debt or past financial mismanagement.
Why Do Employers Check Your Credit?
Some employers use pre-employment credit checks to gauge your ability to handle money responsibly and to get a sense of your overall reliability.
In some regulated financial industries, and in fiscal roles requiring state or federal licensing, pre-hiring credit checks are required by law. Examples include stockbrokers, mortgage brokers, pawnbrokers and payday lenders.
When not required by law, job candidates may be subject to credit checks based on the hiring company's policies. Candidates are typically subject to credit checks for management jobs with large financial responsibility and other positions that require handling large sums such as cashiers and bank tellers.
What Information Do Employers See When Checking Your Credit Report?
Employment credit checks can reveal a number of personal details that help verify a job applicant's identity and credentials, including:
- Full legal name (including past names that may have changed following marriage or divorce) under which they applied for or received credit
- Past and current addresses
- Past and current employers in some cases
Of course, a pre-employment credit check also reveals credit-related information, including:
- A record of credit accounts and payment history
- Credit utilization rate—the candidate's outstanding debt as a percentage of their available credit
- Past and current bankruptcies
- Unpaid bills turned over to a collection agency
- Other credit inquiries
Credit reports available to employers do not contain all the information found on the credit reports issued to lenders. Most notably, pre-employment credit checks withhold your birth year to discourage the possibility of age discrimination.
Like all consumer credit reports, those provided to employers also do not disclose the following:
- Credit scores
- Marital status
- Race or ethnicity
- Political affiliation
- Information related to medical bills (even if they're unpaid)
- Public records other than bankruptcy
How Far Back Do Employers Look?
Like credit checks related to loan and credit card applications, pre-employment credit checks are subject to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Under the FCRA, pre-employment credit checks can consider no more than seven years of credit history, unless the job commands a salary of $75,000 or more, in which case up to 10 years of financial history can be reported. In addition, the FCRA allows bankruptcies to be reported for up to 10 years, no matter what the job in question pays.
The FCRA requires anyone running a credit check on you, including a prospective employer, to notify you in writing and get your written consent before doing so. (But if you deny permission, the employer may withdraw its job offer.)
An employer who has checked your credit must also give you a chance to respond to any negative findings. If the results of your credit check are the reason an employer declines to hire you, the company must tell you so in writing.
Some states have additional laws that forbid or limit use of credit checks in the hiring process. These include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as cities including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. For more information on rules governing pre-employment credit checks where you live, consult your state's labor department.
Does an Employer Credit Check Affect Your Credit?
A pre-employment credit check will generate a soft inquiry entry on your credit report, comparable to one that appears when you check your own credit score. Unlike a hard inquiry, which is associated with a new loan or credit application, an employer credit check will not affect your credit scores.
The Bottom Line
If you are concerned about what a potential employer will see if they perform a credit check on you, reviewing your free Experian credit report ahead of time can give you an idea of what to expect. If your report contains a few negative entries, or even more serious issues, prepare to address them if they come up during the hiring process. If your credit report proves a hindrance to your job-hunting efforts, working to build (or rebuild) your credit could help.