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Home  > Article

Bad Credit, Now What?

By Tory Johnson, CEO, Women For Hire

We all know that our personal credit history affects our ability to secure a home loan or open an account at a department store. But most Americans are unaware that bad credit could cost them a job.

Many employers use credit history as a tool in their pre-employment screening as just one measure of judgment and character. If you can't manage your financial obligations, they wonder if it's a sign of irresponsibility. If your monthly debt payment is higher than your salary, some employers worry that it may distract from your performance.

If you have poor credit, it doesn't automatically mean you're unemployable. You should focus on three steps so you don't lose out on positions.

Check your credit report. Even if you're not actively job searching, everyone should know what's in their credit report. Under federal law, you have the right to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. (Visit to access those reports.) Don't bury your head; if you have problems with your credit or you find mistakes on the report, address them immediately with creditors and the reporting company. This will come in very handy should you find yourself looking for work.

Ask the employer's policy. Then when it comes to job searching, avoid voluntarily discussing credit history during the interview process. There's no need to knock yourself out of the running prematurely. When you receive an offer that's contingent on a background check, ask directly, "I'm thrilled at the prospect of working here. What is your policy on background checks? I'd like to know what specific screenings you use and the general time frame for that process." At this point, they've said they want you, so you're in a good position to ask such a question with relative ease. Most employers will gladly walk you through their process.

Speak up with confidence. If an employer says the background screening includes a credit check _ and you've seen the negative activity on your credit report _ then you should consider speaking up. You can say, "I'd like to tell you what in advance you're likely to find on my personal credit report. Please allow me the opportunity to explain it, too." It's important to have a solid rationale. Maybe you hit a challenge because of an unexpected layoff, a divorce, a medical necessity, or a problem with your mortgage. Maybe there are mistakes on your report that you're working to fix.

Talking about personal credit can be embarrassing and difficult for anyone _ you're not alone _ so at this moment it's essential to have a clear, confident explanation that you've rehearsed. You don't want to babble or look like a deer in the headlights. Speaking up at the right moment can make or break the job opportunity.

Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire and the Workplace Contributor on ABC's Good Morning America.  Connect with her at

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