Credit Check for Employment: Can Employers See my Score?
Seeking a job takes plenty of preparation: polishing up your resume, finding promising openings, prepping for job interviews. But there’s one important part of your job application you might be forgetting to review: your credit report.
Many companies will conduct employment credit checks as part of their hiring processes. Although employers don’t have access to your three-digit credit score, the other information in your credit report could be the difference between getting your dream job and getting passed up.
Here’s what you need to know about when employers can check your credit, and how they might use the information when deciding whether to hire you.
Why do employers check credit?
Employers can legally check your credit report. Some employers may want this information to further inform their hiring decision and determine whether you’re a good fit for the position.
Employers may run a credit check for the following purposes:
- Verifying your identity
- Confirming your previous employment and experience
- Assessing your ability to handle money
- Evaluating your financial and personal stability
Background checks for employment often include checking the candidate’s credit history, as well as their criminal record and other public records. However, a potential employer must always obtain your written permission and authorization before it can perform a credit check.
Most often, a potential employer will work with an agency that runs employment background checks on job candidates. But not every job application will include a credit check, as these details will be more relevant for some positions than others.
Your credit information is likely to be important, however, if you’re seeking a position in which you’ll be overseeing other employees, dealing with financial transactions or managing company cash and financial accounts. Still, some employers will have a policy of running background checks on all employees, no matter their role.
What shows up on a credit check for employment?
While federal laws allow credit checks for employment, this only allows companies to see your credit report or history. Background checks often include pulling a copy of your credit report, but employers will receive a modified version called an employment report.
An employer credit check won’t include the following, for example:
Political party affiliation
The employment report will include several other details about you, however:
Your credit accounts and payment history
Identification and address information
Employment information, including past work history
Public record details, including bankruptcies or liens
Can a credit check for employment hurt your score?
There are two types of credit pulls: hard and soft inquiries.
While a hard-credit pull can hurt your credit score temporarily, soft inquiries don’t have any impact on your credit score. Hard-credit inquiries are typically used to open new lines of credit, such as credit cards or personal loans.
An employer credit check is considered a soft-credit inquiry, since you’re not applying for credit. It won’t place a hard credit inquiry on your report, so it can’t affect your credit score.
What are your legal rights during an employer credit check?
Job applicants can reasonably expect to have a background or credit check run as part of the process of seeking employment. If you understand your consumer and credit reporting rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, however, you can make sure you’re treated fairly and legally by potential employers.
Here are the rights you have as a job applicant when it comes to credit checks:
Local and state laws
Federal laws allow employers to check your credit report and use it for hiring and employment considerations, but you might want to research local laws about employment credit checks.
You can reach out to your state’s labor offices to learn more about how any local laws may impact you.
Currently, there are ten states that limit whether, and how, employers can use credit reports in their employment decisions:
In addition to state laws, cities such as Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have also passed legislation that limits how credit checks may be used by employers. New York City, for example, prohibits employers from checking your credit, asking about your credit or payment history or rejecting you because of your credit.
If you live in any of these places, look into the specific employment and credit rules that might grant you additional rights and protections.
Prior notification and written permission
Employers who are pulling your credit report are required to notify you that they intend to check your credit and might use this information for hiring or employment decisions, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This notice has to be given in writing and as a standalone document, not hidden in the fine print of an application.
An employer must also get your written permission to run an employee background check or access your credit report. Make sure you review the authorization document carefully so you know if this is a one-time check or if the employer is asking for ongoing authorization to check your credit while you’re employed with it.
While you may tell a potential employer “no” when it comes to checking your credit, keep in mind that you may get rejected for the job as a result.
If an employer pulls your credit report and sees something that gives them pause, it can’t immediately deny your employment because of it. If it wishes to reject you based on information in your credit report, it’ll have to give you advanced notice of their intentions to do so.
Specifically, it’s required to give you a full copy of the credit report that’s being used for these decisions. You will also receive a document from the FTC called “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.”
You will then have a few days to review the report and discuss the issues the potential employer found.
It must provide the name and phone number of the company that provided the consumer report. This gives you a chance to catch and correct any potential mistakes or errors on your report or provide relevant context for any negative details on your credit report.
If the company moves forward with an adverse action, such as rejecting your employment application, it must send you what is known as an “adverse action notice.” In this notice, the employer must officially notify you that it’s choosing not to hire you because of your credit check.
If you’re rejected for a job position due to your credit report, you are legally entitled to a free copy of that credit report within 60 days.
You should also watch for any potential signs of unlawful discrimination against you.
Employers are required to hold all applicants to the same standard, regardless of “race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information (including family medical history) or age (40 or older),” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If your negative credit history is the result of a disability, for example, this could be a mitigating factor that the employer should consider when using your credit report to inform their hiring decisions.
How to prepare for a credit check for employment
The fact that your credit can affect how hirable you are makes it even more important to prioritize building and maintaining good credit. In fact, job seekers might want to give their credit reports the same attention that they would give a resume or another important hiring document.
Here are some ways that you can improve your credit to make the best possible impression on future employers:
Check your credit report
You have a right by federal law to view your credit reports for free once every 12 months — note that access has been granted weekly since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — and can receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus by visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get free access to your credit file if you’re unemployed and planning to seek employment, or if you’ve had an adverse action taken against you by a potential employer based on your credit report. Review your report, including all account and payment details, to ensure that the information therein is accurate and error-free.
Dispute credit report errors
If you find any erroneous information on your credit report, you have the right to dispute it. The credit reporting agency is then required to verify the disputed information and correct it if a mistake has been made.
Pay your bills on time
A history of consistent, on-time payments on your credit report will demonstrate good personal management skills and responsibility. It could also be wise to limit your borrowing to keep debt balances low and payments affordable.
Be ready to explain your credit report
If your credit file contains negative information, be prepared to discuss this with prospective employers and provide details of mitigating circumstances. A hiring manager might view an account delinquency differently if it was caused by hardship — such as a health emergency, for example — rather than overspending or poor money management.