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Case Study: Limits on Credit Checks Essay

The use of credit checks and their true measure on a person’s ability to perform a job is debatable. With more and more companies requesting pre-employment credit checks, fewer and fewer applicants are able to secure positions. The lack of securing work is leading to more applicants having poor credit scores and these poor credit scores then affect the jobs they can acquire. There is a vicious cycle starting that could lead to even more economic problems. Credit score can be very situational and deceiving when all the facts are not present. There are many reasons someone could have poor credit history such as; unforeseen medical bills, their credit card was stolen, or there could be a mistake by the credit-reporting agency. These could all change the company’s view on your credit. On the other hand, companies generally do not consider just the credit standings in hiring. The company may also use background tests and drug testing. Now that so many companies are using credit as a selection method, states have started to step in and consider prohibiting the use of an applicants credit in respect to hiring.

There are four states that do not allow the use of credit and eighteen more looking at banning it. States see this as “discrimination based on credit history”, or as a civil rights issue since minorities generally have lower credit scores. Keep in mind that the company has to have signed permission to get one credit score, so the applicant does not have to give permission. When one does go forward with the credit check, it is important for them to know that the company does not get their full report or even the scoring. There are many factors for why a company may want to use credit. With so many companies having to deal with fraud and theft, it is easy to see why they are taking a proactive stance. Companies use the general thought that people with bad credit are more likely to steal from them than those that do not. Unfortunately, there are no studies to support this reasoning, thus leading to misconceptions of what could be a highly qualified applicant.

1. How well do you think credit checks meet the effectiveness criteria of (a) reliability; (b) validity; (c) ability to generalize results; (d) high utility; and (e) legality? a. Reliability is something that can in some ways be determined in a credit check. Can and does this person pay their bills on time shows how reliable they are for payment. It does not, on the other hand, show one’s reliability in the work place. A credit check will not tell an employer if a person will be reliable to show up to work on time every day. The employer should understand that unreliable credit could be a result of an unknown situation, thus not relying to heavily on one aspect of one’s history. b. A credit check has little to no validity on someone’s willingness or ability to perform a job or task. It would be nearly impossible to determine if a person can do a job based on whether or not one pays monthly bills in a timely manner. A credit check doesn’t determine I.Q., knowledge of sales techniques, or body strength, thus demonstrating there is no validity in measuring one’s credit score to establish the ability to perform any job or task.

An employer would be ill advised to use a credit check in consideration of the skill(s) need to perform in the work place. c. Credit checks are very generalizable when looking at hiring an individual for jobs dealing with money. Can a person who cannot be responsible for their own money management, be responsible for a company’s money? A company can generalize that an individual with a history of money problem could be more likely to steal and or commit fraud. Generalizing can also create a false impression of a good and responsible person. Credit checks do not explain the reasoning for their bad credit, such as identity theft or medical bills. While it is easy to accept generalizations as a way to measure ones susceptibility to theft, understanding the reasoning for the lack of responsible payment may provide a more adequate insight into one’s character. d. The utility or the cost of the credit check verses the benefit of the information gain in the credit check differs in the job position.

If the company were hiring for a low-level mail clerk it would not be cost effective to pay for the credit history, but if one is hiring for a Chief Financial Officer than the utility would be high and would make economic sense. The company must consider the financial burden and weigh it against the validity of the information gained when using the credit checks as a hiring recourse. e. The legality of using a credit check for a tool for hiring has become very controversial, thus leading to the practice being banned in many states. There are currently 4 states, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington that ban the use of credit checks for pre-employment usage. There are 14 others states that have or are considering banning the use as well. There are other considerations of legality such does it cause discrimination or breaking the equal opportunity employment laws. Companies should look at every job independently and make sure the job justifies the need for a credit check and that they meet all legal obligations in doing so.

2. For what kind of jobs might a credit check be a useful selection method? For what kind of jobs would it be unhelpful, inappropriate, or unethical? A credit check might be helpful method of selection when hiring for a position that require managing money for a company such as an accountant. Companies may also find it helpful when hiring a position that deals with the allocation of money, the assessment of risk with the company’s money or budgeting of company funds. A credit check might be telling of the candidate’s reliability with money and or their willingness to risk financial ruin. Checking of an applicants credit could be unhelpful, inappropriate, or unethical when hiring for jobs that have nothing to do with handling accounts or company money, such as a construction worker. It could unhelpful when prompting an employee that has been with the company for a substantial amount of time, this could make the employee feel untrusted and lead to lack of loyalty to the company.

It would be inappropriate to have a credit check run on a minor employee. He or she most likely has no credit history and may not understand what they are allowing the company to check. The practice could be considered unethical if the company is using this as a tool to discriminate against a minority or someone who is disabled. 3. Imagine you are an HR manager at a company operating in a state where credit checks of job applicants have been banned. What other selection methods could you use to pick honest and responsible employees? An HR manager could use selections methods such as honesty test, background checks, and drug testing. One would also want to check references from past employers and educational institutes. It is also a good tool to have enough time with the applicant to get a sense of whom they are and conducting a working interview can help the interviewer to get a feel for the applicants. A situational interview could be helpful in determining how one might react in different circumstances.

How Would a Manager from the Information in this Case?

The information in this case could help managers weigh the need for credit checks in their personnel selections. They can reference the pros and cons
to the reliability, validity and utility of the credit checks as a device in hiring. Managers could also see that the generalizations that come with credit checks may cause them to lose a very viable candidate. Managers will see from this case that credit history can be deceiving when all the information is not available to them. For example if the manager does not know that an applicant’s identity was stolen and that is why their credit appears to be poor than the manger could misjudge the person and lose out on a potentially great employee. The manager could also learn that doing credit checks could lead to prospective legal problems if not handled with care.

There are many acts taken against companies for using credit checks as a selection method. Making sure that laws are followed correctly and that the company does not discriminate against anyone can be tricky in the use of credit checks. Many feel that credit checks are discriminating because minorities tend to have lower scores than non-minority groups. No company wants that kind of allegation against them, thus the decision to use credit checks must be considered carefully. A manager could learn that while credit checks are one way to decide on whom to hire it is not the only way and probably not the most just way.


Arnoldy B. (2007). The spread of the credit check as civil rights issues. The Christian Science Monitor. Received from http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0118/p01s03-ussc.html Johnston S. (2011). Can bad credit ruin your job search? Received from http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/can-bad-credit-ruin-your-jobsearch.aspx Noe R., Hollenbeck J., Gerhart B.& Wright P. (2011). Fundamentals of Human Resource Management. (4th Ed.) New York. McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Rosen L. (2011, April 5) 18 U.S. states consider legislation to limit credit checks for employment screening background checks. [Blog]. Retrieved from http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/background-checks/18-us-states-consider-legislation-to-limitcredit-checks-for-employment-screening-background-checks-45600

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