By Libby Kane
“Your three-digit credit score is a go-to indication of your trustworthiness that banks, credit card issuers, and car dealerships all use to help predict the likelihood of you repaying a loan.
But it’s of little use to the company that wants to give you a job.
“That a potential employer can check your credit score is probably the most common myth out there when it comes to credit, and unfortunately, it’s one of the most problematic,” says John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com. “In my 23-plus years in the credit industry, there has never been a verified example of this happening.” In fact, he says, the three credit agencies have all gone on record saying that they don’t supply a credit score to employers.
Ulzheimer believes this myth is so pervasive for two reasons:
1. People are using “credit score” and “credit report” interchangeably. While your credit score is based on the contents of your credit report — which details your credit activity and history — they are not the same thing. As an illustration of their independence, consider the fact that while you can get your credit score for free at sites like Credit Sesame, you can’t get your report. And while you can get your free report from each bureau once per year from annualcreditreport.com, you must pay for your score.
2. Employers can pull a credit report. But the credit report available to employers is not the same one that your lenders see. “When an employer checks your credit, it’s called an ’employment screening,’ and the credit bureaus have a separate product available for this purpose,” explains Ulzheimer. “A lot of the data is the same, but not everything. For instance, your date of birth isn’t on it. Plus, when an employer screens your report, not only does the inquiry have no effect at all on your credit score, but you, the consumer, are the only person able to see that it ever happened.”
It’s also worth noting, says Ulzheimer, that a potential employer isn’t going to secretly check your credit behind your back. Unlike with the credit check that comes with applying for a mortgage or car loan, you must give explicit written permission for an employer to check your credit. And it’s not as though it’s your interviewer looking into your credit, he explains. “Normally the employer outsources the process to a third-party company, one that does things like verify your background and education.”
The bottom line is that while employers can check your credit, they can’t see your credit score, their inquiry doesn’t affect it, and the credit report they can pull isn’t the same one used to evaluate your trustworthiness as a borrower. While some states restrict the cases in which an employer can check your credit at all, “certain professions, like law enforcement or other government positions, should expect that credit checks are fair game,” Ulzheimer says. “You should assume a report is going to be pulled.”