How Your Credit
By Jane Bryant Quinn
Could Affect Your Career
Tuesday, March 11, 1997
NEW YORK -- When you apply for a job, you expect the company to
check your references. But do you also expect it to pull your credit
Tens of thousands of employers take a peek at this slice of your
personal life: Do you have big debts, do you pay bills on time, have
you ever been sued by a creditor, is there a tax lien on your home or
a bankruptcy in your past?
Employers use these reports "to serve as a general indicator of
an applicant's financial honesty and personal integrity," says
Experian (formerly TRW), one of the three major credit bureaus.
Hmmmmm. If a reporter went bankrupt four years ago, does that mean
she won't cover her stories well? If a nurse runs late on her credit
card payments, will she forget how to administer shots?
Not one person I spoke with had any evidence to prove that good
credit reports predict good job performance. Regarding employees who
handle money, Experian's Marty Dee calls it "more of an intuitive
situation, where if someone has a huge amount of debt, they might be
susceptible to bribery or theft."
But even if that's reasonable, what about the rest of us? Are
employers just curious, or were they sold on this peekaboo game by the
firms that peddle credit reports?
"We have found in our privacy surveys that employees want their
potential co-worker checked out," says Dave Mooney, spokesperson for
Equifax in Atlanta, the largest firm that does pre-employment
He adds that the reports submitted on job applicants don't show
age or marital status, which aren't supposed to be considered in the
But there's always the risk that your credit report might contain
an error -- maybe listing a bankruptcy for someone with a name similar
The credit-reporting firms piously say that they warn employers
not to use the reports alone, when judging a job applicant. But what
will a personnel officer think if he or she sees a bankruptcy on your
record -- whether it's correct or not?
At present, a potential employer doesn't even have to tell you
that your credit report will be pulled. A new federal law effective in
October changes that.
Here are the new rules, although I doubt that they'll protect you
1. When you apply for a job, the company has to get your explicit
OK to look at your credit report. The paragraph granting permission
can't be buried in the job application form. You have to sign it
What if you refuse to sign? The company will probably assume that
you have something to hide, which would kill your job application then
and there. In so coercive a situation, few people will exercise their
new privacy rights.
2. If you're rejected for the job based "in whole or in part" on
an item on your credit report, the company is supposed to do two
things: Give you a copy of the report before turning you down and
give you written instructions on how to challenge the accuracy of that
But how can you know if the company actually followed this rule?
It's easy to claim that you were turned down for reasons entirely
separate from what's on your credit report.
And what if you're shown the credit report and see that it's
wrong? Is the company going to hold open the job while you go through
the laborious correction process?
Any job hunter should check his or her credit report for accuracy.
But it's going to cost you. Experian used to send reports free but
they stopped on March 1.
Thanks to state laws, residents of Maryland, Massachusetts,
Vermont and Georgia can still get free reports whenever they want to
check on what creditors are saying about them.
In Georgia, however (Equifax's home state), this pro-consumer law
is under fierce attack. The state Senate has voted for repeal;
concerned residents should get to their representatives fast, says Ed
Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in Washington,
Where credit reports aren't free, you pay up to $8 (up to $16 for
a married couple) at Equifax (800-685-1111), Experian (800-682-7654)
and Trans Union (316-636-6100 -- Warning, Trans Union gives terrible
For job hunters, this may be an unavoidable expense. But it
gravels me. You're paying to protect yourself from others' mistakes,
for a use of your credit report that shouldn't be legitimate in the
Jane Bryant Quinn welcomes letters on money issues and problems
but cannot offer individual financial advice.
© Copyright 1997 Washington Post Writer's Group
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