A Quick Look at Pre-Employment Credit Screening (From the Applicant Point of View)

If your organization runs pre-employment credit checks as part of your overall screening program, let’s ask you to put on your “applicant hat” for this blog entry. We’ll take a minute to look at credit checks from the applicant angle. And more importantly, to see what they face when applying for positions while also battling—or recovering from—lackluster credit histories.

So, just how many companies run pre-employment credit checks?

You might be surprised to know that a good percentage of companies make it common practice to run credit checks, especially for job positions handling money and/or sensitive, personal information. In fact, many run credit checks as a predictor that if an applicant successfully manages their own money, it’s a sign that he or she will make good, ethical decisions in the workplace.

A 2018 HR.com survey of HR professionals reported that just over 30% of companies performed credit checks on at least some of their applicants, if not all. Of course, if you’re not already running credit checks, we always recommend you check with your legal resource to confirm any limitations in your area for doing so.

Let applicants know what information is available during a credit check.

Your applicant just dazzled you with an impressive interview. You think it could potentially be a great match, and hopefully for many years to come. You may even be considering a conditional job offer. Now, it’s time to share that you run a pre-employment credit check as part of your company’s overall background screening—and here come the questions. No worries, this is what you do best. Take a moment to let them know what is, and isn’t, part of the credit check:

  • First, and probably most important to your applicant: the credit check doesn’t include a credit score. The credit score isn’t provided as part of a pre-employment credit check.
  • The report will show open accounts (without actual account numbers), payment history, outstanding balances, and open credit amounts. You’ll also have access to information about accounts in collections, negative payment history, and credit to balance limits ratio—unfortunately known as red flag items that illustrate credit issues.
  • The credit check is known as a soft hit, which will have no impact on the applicant’s credit score. Hard hits, like inquiries run for purposes of a loan offer or credit extension, can potentially impact a credit score.

Now, pretend you’re the applicant. How’s YOUR Credit?

Applicants may have asked you how they can improve their credit score. As an HR professional, it certainly helps to have a few key pieces of advice on hand. Or, perhaps this has you now thinking about your own credit history. Because who knows, perhaps someday you might be an applicant about to land your next dream job!

  • Top Tip: Regularly review your credit report for inaccurate information. You may already know, but it bears repeating that you can obtain a free credit report from all three credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com. You’re entitled to one free report per year from each bureau (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). If you spread that out across the year, it would mean you could go to one of the three bureaus every four months for your report.  
  • If you find inaccurate information, it is critical to immediately dispute it with the credit bureaus. Keep in mind that applicants finding inaccurate information may also reach out before a credit check to let you know they are currently disputing information. And, while it may be a little “too much information,” know that applicants may let you know their credit troubles are the result of a particular hardship—like a divorce, family death, or other life event.

The bottom line, pre-employment credit checks can be a valuable tool to understand your applicants’ approach to money management, as well as their potential to make appropriate decisions in their roles within your organization. As an HR professional, it’s also a great opportunity to help ensure you’re making informed employment decisions for the safety and well-being of your organization.

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