For some reason, there are individuals and groups bent on scaring job applicants about credit reports by spreading miss-information that is just plain wrong.  Whether these people are just not well informed, or have their own agenda to push, the fact remains that job applicants are under enough stress without having to worry about things that are simply not true.

In previous blogs, ESR debunked two commonly held myths. See:

First, employers do NOT obtain your credit score if they order an employment credit report. Credit score has no relationship to job performance and is simply not provided to employers.  The reports do include a credit history, but not a credit score.

Secondly, employers are not running credit scores as some sort of insidious conspiracy deny jobs to applicants.  Employers only run credit reports AFTER an employer has gone through the time, cost and effort to find the right candidate, usually from a large field of applicants. An employer does not invest money in a background report just to find ways not to hire.  When an employer initiates a background check, it is because they are interested in hiring the applicant and are conducting due diligence to make sure there is no reason not to hire.

Another myth is that employers are running credit reports in large numbers on all applicants.  In fact, even though studies show a significant usage by employer of credit reports, they are not widely used on all applicants.  Most employers and Human Resources professionals understand that credit reports should be limited to those jobs where there is a business justification, such as positions with access to cash, assets or personal information or other sensitive positions.

What should a job applicant do regarding credit reports and job hunting?

First, understand that if you get to the point where an employer is running a background check, that is great news.  It means you made it though the hiring process and that you are most likely a finalist for a job.

It also means that the employer has spent considerable time recruiting, interviewing and making decisions, and that you rose to the top after the employer has reviewed lots of other resumes and applications.

Secondly, if you are concerned that a background check may include a credit report, do not be the last to know what your credit report may say.  As a consumer, you are entitled to a free credit report YEARLY from each of the credit bureaus.  A consumer just needs to go to to run a free report.  If you see some sort of error, it would be a good idea to get that corrected as soon as possible.  There is a well established procedure for contacting the credit bureaus to bring an error to their attention and request it be remedied.

Third, if you are concerned that your credit history may reflect negatively, than have a discussion ahead of time with the hiring manger or Human Resources about your credit reports.  As most experienced Human Resources professionals can tell you, information honestly disclosed by an applicant has much less impact than information the employer discovers for themselves.

Also keep in mind that HR professionals understands that people have to deal with the realities of life. For example if a consumer was undergoing economic stress due to the recession, and relied on credit cards, or there was a medical issue that caused bills, let HR or the hiring manager know.  Also keep in mind that the only reason you are having this discussion is that the firm is seriously considering hiring you, and has gone through allot of time and effort to make that decision, including reviewing numerous other resumes.

Fourth, applicants need to keep in mind that they have rights.  Under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a credit report is only obtained after the applicant has given consent and after a legally required disclosure on a standalone document has been given.  If the employer utilizes the credit report in any way not to hire, an applicant is entitled to a copy of their credit report, a pre- adverse action notice as well as a statement of their rights. Before any decision becomes final, the applicant also has the right to challenge the credit report before any denial of employment is made final.

The bottom-line:  If an employer feels a credit report is job related, and a consumer is concerned about that, keep in mind that the employer has made you a finalist, and therefore has an interest in hiring you.  You were evaluated without the employer having any idea of what was in the credit report.  If there are negative entries, be prepared to share it before the credit report is run. (ESR advises employers by the way not to utilize credit reports unless there is a clear business justification and the use is non-discriminatory and to take into account that credit reports can contain errors or material not relevant to employment.)

One other interesting point: there is no evidence that employers routinely engage in pulling back job offers after the review of the credit report.  There are certainly anecdotal stories, but on the whole, once an employer decides they want a particular person, and they have spent time and effort to make that decision, it usually takes something significant that was unexpected for an employer to change their minds.