Editorial Policy

How to spruce up credit report before job interviews

Erica Sandberg

October 15, 2015

QHi Erica,

After I left my husband I had to start over at zero. At that time, I was broke and in debt. Today, I have a job making minimum wage and though I get child support it goes to my son, 8,  for whom I have 70 percent custody. As you can imagine I am desperate to get ahead. I am thinking of working a second job as a security guard when my son is not here (on the weekends) because it pays double what I make at my job now. My problem is my credit. It is in ruins. I heard they look at credit, so what should I do? I could REALLY use the money. There are few good jobs around here, but this is where my son goes to school and I’m not allowed to move because of visitation.
— Tiffany

ADear Tiffany,

Your resolve to overcome financial obstacles is impressive. Not everyone is willing to work so hard. So one thing you should do now is convey to your son your dedication to climbing out of this hole. He is old enough to understand that while money is tight now, it won’t always be, because you are doing everything you can to ensure a secure and wonderful life for both of you.

Regarding your credit report, it is true that many employers pull an applicant’s file as part of the hiring procedure. But 10 states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — ban employer credit checks on new hires.

Since this security guard position requires a considerable amount of trust, the company will likely conduct a thorough criminal background check as well as check your credit. Presuming you have no serious convictions or felonies on your record, all you have to worry about is what’s listed on your credit report and how it will be perceived by the hiring manager.Ask Erica

A credit report full of delinquencies and high balances can make you appear – at least on the surface – as a potentially risky individual. The reason? Someone who owes a lot of money, has collection accounts (and therefore might be hounded by collectors), and has a history of not making payments on time might be more apt to commit fraud, take bribes or steal. Another negative perception that could be drawn from such a credit file is that you’re irresponsible or don’t know how to manage your personal affairs.

All that sounds pretty bad, I know, but the fact is, plenty of people have credit reports riddled with problems. In areas where unemployment is especially high and incomes particularly low, credit reports are frequently worse. People who are applying for the same job as you may have similar credit problems.

Here’s how you can rise above:

  1. Get copies of your reports and know what is listed. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free reports, and read them carefully.
  2. Circle the bad stuff. This could be accounts that were charged off or maxed-out credit cards.
  3. Clear up what you can. If you owe $76 to a collection agency, and can spare the funds, pay it off. Evidence that the account  went to collections will remain, but a satisfied debt looks better than one outstanding,
  4. Check for errors. If you see anything that should not appear because it’s false or too old (seven years for most negative listings) dispute these errors immediately.
  5. Add a 100-word statement. Divorce is a common reason for financial problems. You have the right to explain what happened and have it attached to your credit report. When the employer (among others) pulls the report, they’ll see the summary. It could make all the difference.

Now, if you do get the interview and the person you’re dealing with asks for permission to access your credit report (they can’t do so without your permission), consider it a great sign. You may be able to offset any negative judgment with a conversation about your past circumstances. Tell the person doing the interviewing what they’ll see, and explain that you’re eager for the job. Ask how it will affect your chances and if they can offer any suggestions on how to make it look more appealing. Maybe they’ll accept a referral letter from the manager of your current position, extolling your virtues as a responsible person.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.

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