Could credit affect getting hired for a job?

Credit counseling

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The most important number in your economic life isn't necessarily your social security number or your phone number at the office.

It's your credit score.

Once limited to decisions about whether or not you got a mortgage or a car loan, it's increasingly being used by employers in hiring and promotion decisions.

Today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission looked at establishing a national policy. Our Washingto bureau chief John Dimsdale reports.


John Dimsdale: The EEOC says there's been an uptick in businesses using credit checks to help figure out whether to hire or keep an employee. Now more than half of all U.S. companies do.

Michael Eastman with the Chamber of Commerce says they only screen for a small minority of job categories.

Michael Eastman: And it could be for employees that have direct access to client or company cash. It could be those with access to controlled substances or other sensitive information such as trade secrets.

But with 10 percent unemployment and record home foreclosures, are credit checks fair? At today's hearing, Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center told the commission they're not.

Chi Chi Wu: A worker who loses her job is likely to fall behind on her bills because of a lack of income. She can't rebuild her credit history if she can't get a job, and she can't get a job if she's got bad credit.

For 10 years, consultant Diana Keels watched the growth in employee credit checks as she helped recruit executives for companies like Home Depot and Koch Industries.

Diana Keels: If a person didn't have a lot of debt, they saw that as a reflection of their integrity and their ability to pay and responsibility and such.

But Keels got disgusted with the discrimination she saw in the reviews. This year, she quit and started helping people restore their credit.

Keels: You have people who's credit has been perfect, who are now struggling, so their credit is now going downhill. And if you're using it as a reflection of responsibility or integrity, that's not necessarily a true picture.

Congress is considering a ban on credit checks for employees.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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