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January 02. 2013 11:59PM

Mark Hayward's City Matters: Credit check can doom job hope


 
Nearly all of us have spent time in the unemployment line. Maybe we've been thrown out of work when a company downsized. Or maybe we got canned when our mouth oversized and let the boss know what we think about him.

And so, we go through the drill. Suit and tie - clean and pressed. Resume - updated with a sprinkling of power words. References - ready and glowing. Handshake - firm and fast, definitely not lingering.

Add one more item to your checklist - pay your bills. Already struggling in a lackluster job market, the unemployed find a new indignation. Sign a release so potential employers can check your credit.

From the jobless I've spoken to, only a few employers are making credit checks. It's something I heard mentioned last October when talking to day laborers; all one has to do is speak to people on the unemployment line and they'll say it happens.

"If you're filing for unemployment, and you're not doing that well, chances are your credit's not pretty good," said a woman who only wanted her first name, Terry, used. "It does hurt your chances."

Terry maintains eye contact and is well spoken. She's had jobs in the financial and human services industries, and even launched a social service program. In short, she appears to be a good hire.

But she's gone through a divorce and recent joblessness. "Everyone has some credit issues," she said.

She got as far as an interview with one employer. But she never heard from him afterward, and wonders if her credit score had anything to do with it.

She also pointed out an injustice that goes along with merely checking credit: Each time your credit is checked, the score drops a couple of points.

In 2010, the Society for Human Resource Management said that 13 percent of surveyed employers conduct a credit check for all job candidates. About half of the companies run credit checks for only some jobs - those who handle cash, senior executives and those with access to confidential information.

A lot less attention was given to the credit of security guards, the national defense or homeland security industries, and those in contact with children, the elderly or disabled. You can see what is really important here.

George Copadis, the commissioner of employment security for New Hampshire, said he handn't heard of credit checks until asked by me. He checked with managers at a couple of local offices. They told him they had not seen much of it.

"I'm not saying it's not been done. It hasn't come to their attention," Copadis said. He said he'd have to give some thought to whether he likes the practice; he could understand a link to responsibility and financial management skills.

Dawn Bertot knows about responsibility. The Manchester resident said she lived off credit cards in her 20s but has since straightened up her act, thanks to credit counseling. She has more than $10,000 in credit card debt; she hopes to pay it off over the next 10 years.

Still, her credit stinks.

So when she applied for a job at a maternity clothes store, she got turned down.

A friend who arranged the interview told her the company thinks that someone with bad credit would be a higher risk for employee theft. "They see how much I owe and think I may be a risk," Bertot said. "It really doesn't run true that if you have debt you'll steal."

So Bertot keeps working two jobs, at a fast-food restaurant and a dollar store.

Bertot said Friendly's asked for a credit report release when she applied there. I called Friendly's to get a comment; the company's communications director asked me to email a list of questions. I did in early December, and never got a response.

Other jobless people said nursing homes ask for credit checks.

Kristen Schmidt, communications director for the New Hampshire Health Care Association, said she can't say why individual members run credit checks. But she made a quick canvass of members. Of the 18 responses she received, only one or two run credit checks.

She said paperwork that applicants sign contains a release for credit checks, but that doesn't mean a nursing home runs a credit check.

"As far as credit checks go, it does not seem that's a standard practice for us," she said.

Whether standard practice or not, no doubt it soon will be.

This is our Facebook world. We live our lives online now, and that means we have unhinged any doors of privacy we would like to crawl behind. Just last month The Journal News, a newspaper that covers suburban counties east of New York City, published the locations of licensed gun owners.

So what if, like several of my friends, you shun Facebook because you value your privacy? Tough. The world has changed. You want a job. You want a loan. You want to be my friend, let me see your bank book, your bills, your wall.

This is your digital-age Miranda warning.

Bedford resident Jesus Lopez, who was also looking for a job at the unemployment office, said his previous job involved examining job applications.

He's not worried about a credit check. He said a credit check is just part of everything an employer does - references, criminal record - before hiring an employee.

"You don't really know," Lopez said, "until you check everything."

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Mark Hayward's City Matters appears in Thursday editions of the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.

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