When you have bad credit, it can feel like you’re a second-class citizen. The only debt products available to you are typically predatory and high interest, while a mortgage is pretty much off the table entirely. You may have trouble being approved for a rental, and utility companies might require a deposit to set up your account.
As if that weren’t enough, bad credit can also affect your ability to land a good job.
Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate the damage a poor credit history can do to your application. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Employers Check Credit History
Some studies show that almost 30 percent of employers check their prospective employees’ credit histories during the interview process. Many companies will do this when they are hiring for positions that require management of company finances. In some cases, specifically government jobs, the employer wants to make sure their new hire won’t be susceptible to bribery.
Some companies use credit checks more generally, the idea being that how you handle your finances is indicative of who you are as a person. If you’re prone to late payments, for example, an employer might assume you’ll miss deadlines on work assignments as well.
When an employer requests a credit check, they receive a special credit report that is similar to what a lender or landlord might see. They won’t see your credit score, but they will see a list of your loans or open lines of credit, as well as both current and past accounts.
How to Get Hired With Bad Credit
An employer has to receive your permission to access your credit report, which allows you to address preemptively any infractions they might see. If you have a bankruptcy or student loan default on your history, it is better to tell the employer before they find out for themselves. You will look more honest if you disclose ahead of time, and doing so allows you to share the information on your terms.
Talk about any circumstances that may have contributed to your financial negligence, and describe what you learned from the experience. Employers know people aren’t perfect, so they may be willing to excuse irresponsible behavior if you’re candid and sincere. If the supervisor doesn’t have you sign a form granting a credit check, you don’t have to bring it up at all.
You’re more likely to get away with bad credit if your job doesn’t involve any kind of financial decision-making. In fact, some states have laws that prohibit employer credit checks unless a candidate is going to have direct access to company finances or be in a managerial role.
Some employers may check your credit after you’ve been hired, even if they did not do so during the hiring process. You will get advance notice of this and can decide to come clean about anything the company might find. Remember, most negative items fall off a credit report after 7-10 years, so there is no point in divulging a default from 15 years ago.
If you have bad credit and are applying for a job that will likely necessitate a credit check, you need to bring enough supporting evidence to demonstrate your qualifications. Outstanding recommendations from previous employers, special qualifications, and proof that you have tried to fix your credit can be enough to excuse a questionable credit history.
How to Improve Your Credit Report
There are a few relatively simple things you can do to improve an embarrassing credit report.
First, access your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can pull your reports from all three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. All three credit reports will probably be similar, but it is best to pull them all if it has been a while since you last checked.
Look at the red marks on your report and what they indicate. They can include late payments, defaults, unpaid debts, and bankruptcies.
If the mark is recent, you can call the lender or credit card provider and ask them to remove it. You should be polite and respectful, and you must demonstrate why this event was an aberration. Try to prove that you have made changes to avoid a repeat. For example, if you had a late payment on a credit card but have since signed up for automatic payments, use that as an example you have improved your behavior.
You should also make sure there are no errors on your credit report. If you find something that seems sketchy, contact the lender and file a dispute with each of the credit bureaus. An error can take a while to be resolved, so start on this as soon as you notice it.
James Garvey is CEO of Self Lender.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.