More Employers Are Checking Credit Reports. Should You Be Worried?

Woman shaking hands with employer during job interview.

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We're well beyond the days when a well-written resume was enough to land you the job. For many employers, what you've done before takes a back seat to what you can offer now, how well you jibe with the company's culture, and whether you have people willing to recommend you. Employers are increasingly looking for new ways to find the best employee, including scouring your social media profiles and even checking your credit reports.

According to a CareerBuilder survey, 29% of employers now check job applicants' credit reports. They use this information as a means of assessing your responsibility and trustworthiness. If you have a number of late payments on your record, this could indicate that you're not very organized or responsible in your everyday life. If you're buried under a mountain of debt, you might be more likely to steal from the company or commit fraud in order to ease your pain. These are huge red flags to employers, and they could be the difference between getting hired or getting passed over.

Here's what you need to know about employer credit checks to ensure that your credit report passes with flying colors.

What an employer can and can't do

Checking job applicants' credit reports is controversial, so much so that 11 states -- California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington -- have passed laws banning or limiting the practice. However, a recent Demos study shows that these laws are not always enforced. If you're interested in learning more about the restrictions on employer credit checks or you need to file a dispute for a violation of the law, consult with your state's labor department.

Employers in all states are required to notify you and get your written consent before checking your credit report. You are within your rights to refuse, but you should note that doing so could cause employers to think you have something to hide, leading them not to consider your application any further.

The credit report that employers see is not the same one you would see if you checked your own credit report. It's a modified version that gives an overview of your credit accounts and your payment history. It does not contain personal information like your credit score, account numbers, marital status, or birth date. When the employer pulls the report, a soft inquiry is performed on your history, so it will not hurt your credit score.

If an employer decides to reject your application based on something in your credit report, it must first notify you with a pre-adverse action letter. This explains why your application is being denied and includes a summary of your credit report and a list of your rights. You have a small window of time -- usually no more than five business days -- in which you can choose to explain the actions on the report or dispute anything that is incorrect. Employers are not required to change their minds because of this, but they may do so if you have a good explanation. If not, they will send you a final notice of their decision, along with information on how to get a free copy of your credit report within 60 days.

How to make the best impression

It's a good idea to check your credit report before applying for jobs so you know what employers will see. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report per bureau per year through You probably won't know which report the employer will check, and your reports can sometimes contain different information, so it's important to check all of them.

First, scan your reports for any incorrect information. This could be a sign of a computing error or identity theft. If you find anything out of place, contact the credit bureau and the financial institution associated with the account. You may also want to consider placing a fraud alert on your account if you believe your identity has been stolen.

Once you're sure that all of the information in the report is accurate, look at it through the eyes of an employer. Are there any red flags, such as late payments, repossessions, or high credit utilization, that could indicate that you're irresponsible or have trouble managing your money? If there are, take steps to correct them. You won't be able to fix these mistakes overnight, but by making an effort to pay down debt and pay on time, you will not only increase your odds of getting employment, but you'll also increase your credit score.

Be up front with the employer if you know there are some negative items in your credit report. Explain to them what you're doing to correct the situation. They might be reassured if your more recent credit history reflects better habits.

Employer credit checks probably aren't going away. But as long as you handle your money responsibly, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. If you have a lot of red flags on your report, take steps now to improve it so you can make as good an impression on paper as you do in person. 

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