Conducting a job search after graduating from college can seem like a monumental task, one filled with challenges and uncertainties. But here’s one thing recent grads shouldn’t be uncertain about when embarking on the journey to secure a job — what’s on their credit report.
Just as hours and days are devoted to creating a professional resume and poring over every last word on a LinkedIn profile, your credit report also needs to be reviewed and, if necessary, improved. The importance of one’s credit history during a job search will of course vary by profession, but there are employers who will look at your credit report as part of their application process. And if you’re applying for a job that requires you to handle cash or balance books, a blemish could hurt your chances of securing the position.
Why Does an Employer Want to See my Credit?
“Employers will look at credit history as a measure of responsibility,” said Deidre Davis, vice president of marketing and communications for the university-based MSU Federal Credit Union. “They’re looking to see if that potential employee has successfully managed their financial obligations, because that will tell them how someone might manage overall workload and deadlines.”
According to credit-industry experts, it’s most often within the banking and financial services industry that a credit report review is part of the application process, as well as for some government jobs that require security clearance, law enforcement officers and those seeking executive-level positions. It’s important to note, however, there are about a dozen states where local laws either prohibit or severely limit the use of consumer credit reports as part of an application, according to the site Employment Screening Resources.
Plus, employers are not allowed to check your credit report without your consent, which you must provide in writing. And they won’t have access to your actual credit score, explained Davis. They’ll be looking at the credit report, which is slightly different. It shows such things as whether you’ve missed payments and are delinquent on accounts, and whether you carry large balances.
Having a clean credit report isn’t just important to a job search, post-college. Prospective landlords, insurers, cell phone companies, utility providers and more will check your credit when deciding whether to do business with you and/or what to charge. Of course, you’ll also need good credit to get an affordable loan.
With that in mind, here’s some advice from credit experts on getting your credit profile ready for the interview process.
1. Know What’s on Your Credit Report
The first step is to pull your credit report and conduct a thorough review of everything on it. Under federal law, you’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each consumer credit reporting agency. You can pull your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. (And, if you’re looking for your digits, you can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
“Know your starting point,” said Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network. “Many young adults already have credit profiles and don’t realize it. Start by finding out if you do.”
Once you’ve reviewed your report(s), correct any inaccuracies and dispute any erroneous items. (You can learn more about disputing errors on your credit report here.) Under the terms of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must investigate disputed items and remove them from the report if they cannot be verified, Gallegos explained.
2. Seek Guidance From a Finance Professional
If the credit report turns up negative factors, or you simply don’t have a firm understanding of the key aspects of a credit profile, consider obtaining the advice of a professional.
“Get some tips to improve things going forward,” said Davis of MSU Federal Credit Union. “Talk to someone who can tell you, ‘For the next six months these are the behaviors that will improve your credit score.’ Sometimes people need some basic advice and guidance. That’s where going into a local financial institution can help. You can say to them, ‘Here is my credit report, how can I make it better?’ ”
According to the site LendEDU, many college students know very little about building, maintaining or repairing consumer credit. In 2016, the site surveyed 668 current college students at both two-year and four-year public and private institutions, and found that 59.3% of students could not define a credit score. In addition, 45.5% were unable to identify any of the factors used to determine a credit score, and 42.4% were unable to identify at least one way to improve a credit score.
Building good credit is important, so don’t be afraid to seek assistance.
3. Improve Your Credit
One of the most critical things you can do to improve your credit report moving forward is pay bills on time, said Gallegos.
“On-time payments are the most important factor in developing good credit, accounting for 35% of one’s credit score,” he said.
In addition, maintaining a low balance, or using only about at least 30% and ideally 10% of your available credit, will improve your score. You should also aim to pay your bills in full each month, if possible. Likewise, paying student loans on time, which are considered installment loans, can help improve your credit score. (You can find more ways to improve your credit here.)
What If You Haven’t Established Credit?
Some college graduates may not have an extensive credit history to show a prospective employer. If this is the case, there are a few ways to help establish a solid record fairly quickly.
One approach is to be added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card, ideally a card the parent has had for a long time and kept in good standing. By being added to such a card, the payment history on the account will become part of your credit report as well.
Be aware not all credit card companies report authorized users’ names to credit bureaus because there’s a fee involved in doing so, says Davis. That means being added to the card won’t accomplish your goal of establishing a solid credit history. Always find out first if the card reports authorized users to credit bureaus.
Another approach is to open a secured credit card in your name. Secured credit cards require a cash deposit as collateral, which then becomes the line of credit. The key when opening the card, or any card for that matter, is being responsible, said Davis.
“Only use the card for small dollar purchases that can be paid when the bill comes in so that you’re not getting into debt but are showing responsible use,” she said. “Buy a pizza with the card, and pay it off. Buy a pair of tennis shoes, and pay it off. Don’t go open 15 cards. Open one and use it responsibly.”
Trying to get a full-time gig now that college has ended? We’ve got your covered. Here’s a full 50 things recent graduates can do to score their first job.