Bad Credit Can Spell Job Search Woes

Before a potential employer can pull your credit history, you must sign a release.
Before a potential employer can pull your credit history, you must sign a release. (Elise Amendola/AP Photo)

Is there something personal in your financial past that you'd rather not explain to a stranger -- say bad credit, bankruptcy or a proclivity for spending thousands of dollars on needless material objects? Then applying for a new job or going after a promotion could put you in a tricky spot, because an employer can easily find out about all of these things.

Many finance-related companies check job applicants' credit. Some also check credit histories when employees are considered for promotions, so you can't assume that because you have a job at the company, your personal information is going to remain personal.

Your Finances

Before a potential employer can pull your credit history, you must sign a release. The report the company gets will be just like a regular credit report, but some credit services, such as Experian, remove information that employers aren't allowed to consider -- such as age and marital status.

The report will show delinquencies, bankruptcies, judgments, liens and a list of your loans, mortgages and credit-card accounts. For example, if you open a charge account at Banana Republic and spend $1,000 a year there, that line of credit will appear on your credit report.

Be Prepared

If you're on the hunt for a finance job, find out what's in your credit report before you start your search. Buy a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit services, so you're not blindsided by an inaccurate item that you don't know about until an interviewer asks.

If there's a mistake on your report, contact the creditor that made the error. If there's adverse information about unpaid student loans, charge-card bills or bankruptcies on your report, don't waste your time and money on credit repair schemes.

You can't erase the truth from your credit file. But time heals all wounds; most bad credit incidents will disappear from your record after seven years.

Get Your Story Straight

What can you say when you're asked about poor credit?

Your best bet is to keep your answer short, sweet and sincere. Acknowledge the error of your ways. Assure the employer that there was a one-time problem and you've changed.

For instance, you might say: "I came from humble beginnings, and when I went away to college, I'd never had any experience with credit. I got over-extended, and that was wrong, but I learned a lesson and worked hard to pay off all my debts. Since then, I've had clean credit and I hope this won't hold me back, because I really want to work for Miracle Finance."

If you are turned down for a job because of credit problems, the employer has to give you a copy of the report and explain your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Don't Trip Up

There is one other way a credit report can trip you up. When you apply for a new credit card or loan, you provide information about your current employer. That information is passed along to the credit reporting service. If you leave a job off your resume and it appears on your credit report, someone may notice the discrepancy. That's another good reason to pull your own report from all three companies before you start interviewing.

Is It Fair?

If you have poor credit, you're unlikely to agree with employers that think good credit is important. Instead of beating your head against the wall, try applying for work with smaller companies where the hiring process isn't standardized and there are no professional human resources folks to suggest credit checks.

If all else fails, you may have to work in another field, clean up your act and wait for those damning reports to fade into history.

Your Own Credit Check

You can order a copy of your credit report online from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Under an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can access your credit report for free once every 12 months.

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