States May Ban Credit Checks on Job Applicants

By Kathleen Miller, Associated Press Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — It's hard enough to find a job in this economy, and now some people are facing another hurdle: Potential employers are holding their credit histories against them.

Sixty percent of employers recently surveyed by the Society for Human Resources Management said they run credit checks on at least some job applicants, compared with 42% in a somewhat similar survey in 2006.

Employers say such checks give them valuable information about an applicant's honesty and sense of responsibility. But lawmakers in at least 16 states from South Carolina to Oregon have proposed outlawing most credit checks, saying the practice traps people in debt because their past financial problems prevent them from finding work.

Wisconsin state Rep. Kim Hixson drafted a bill in his state shortly after hearing from Terry Becker, an auto mechanic who struggled to find work.

Becker said it all started with medical bills that piled up when his now 10-year-old son began having seizures as a toddler. In the first year alone, Becker ran up $25,000 in medical debt.

Over 4½ months, he was turned down for at least eight positions for which he had authorized the employer to conduct a credit check, Becker said. He said one potential employer told him, "If your credit is bad, then you'll steal from me."

"I was in a deep depression. I had lost a business, I was behind on my bills and I was unable to get a job," he said.

Hixson calls what happened to Becker discrimination based on credit history and said his bill would ban it.

"If somebody is trying to get a job as a truck driver or a trainer in a gym, what does your credit history have to do with your ability to do that job?" Hixson said. He said he knows of no research that shows a person with a bad credit history is going to perform poorly.

Under federal law, prospective employers must get written permission from applicants to run a credit check on them. But consumer advocates say most job applicants do not feel they are in a position to say no.

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