Should Employers Be Allowed to Check Your Credit?

Should employers be allowed to check job applicants’ credit reports?

I debated that question on CNBC’s Street Signs today:

Of course employers should be allowed to check applicants’ credit. Why should they look only at the biased information you put on your resume? Credit reports provide a fuller picture.

My debate opponent, consumer advocate Joe Ridout, pointed out that there aren’t any statistical studies that show a correlation between bad credit and employees who rip off their employers. But why should we need such studies? How about a little common sense, which tells you that, say, someone who is routinely late in making payments just might be late for work?

The consumer advocates’ argument rests on the assumption that businesses are irrationally discriminating against applicants with bad credit.

But if we just assume that businesses are greedy and care only about making money — which, I think, the consumer-advocate types would normally grant us — then why would they spend money on credit reports that have no value? Do “consumer advocates” really believe that they not only know what’s best for you and me, but also know what’s best for businesses’ bottom lines?

Finally, let’s not forget the people with good credit and what a great service credit reports perform for them. A clean credit report lets you carry your good reputation with you wherever you go. Because of this market innovation, it doesn’t matter if you move to a new town where you don’t know the people at the bank or at your prospective employer’s office. They can check your report and see that, to that extent, you seem to be dependable.

It would be a shame if misguided activists and pandering politicians took some of this benefit away.

(Cross-posted at the Mises Blog.)

6 comments… add one

  • No offense, left-libertarians.

    Reply
  • No offense taken. Why is this even a question? It seem to me rather obvious that an employer can check any item of history about a prospective employee that he wishes to check. In fact, from the standpoint of morality and private property, not only can an employer check any source he likes, he can decide based upon any rubric he desires, using that information, ignoring it, or anything in between. Then again, I’d argue that since the choice is mine to make, ipso facto all discrimination is rational from my point of view.

    Reply
  • I agree, it does seem obvious. Unfortunately, it’s not obvious to a lot of people — for example, if you look at the comments that follow a mainstream article on the subject. Consider this gem from someone commenting on a recent New York Times piece on this topic:

    So anyone with a bad mark on their credit report can’t get a job, huh? Get ready for the mother of all revolutions. Credit bureaus will be the first to go, then human resources managers will be looking over their shoulders on the way to and from work. If capitalists don’t want a socialist takeover, they’d better start putting people back to work! I hate socialism, but who’s gonna stop ‘em when it finally hits the fan?

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    Reply
  • I found it strange that your opponent in that debate brought up additional ways that credit reports might be used to judge employees.

    He mentioned that, in some cases, poor credit might be a reason that someone would work harder. Which, it seems to me, would be all the more reason to allow employers to check up on that. It’s not as if once employers start looking into credit reports then they are only allowed to weight high credit scores positively – they could use the exact same reasoning that your opponent suggested and positively weight a lower credit score.

    It’s odd how statists seem to think that they, as disinterested third party observers, are more able to come up with these sorts of considerations than are businessmen with money on the line and experience in the industry.

    Reply
  • @ Huebert – It seems that what we have here–as we tend to always have–is a very basic misunderstanding of ownership. The person posting that comment mentioned “hating socialism” but then, as if he didn’t understand the irony, suggested that capitalists had to put people to work. That implies that the jobs must be given to people who want them versus the owner of the job being at liberty to do whatever he wishes with his property. Amazingly ignorant, but also truly troubling as well.

    Reply
  • My comments may be deleted, but I would really like to comment. I am a sixty year old woman and I have recently been offered a position with a company with a salary increase and other upgrades to my present employment situation. I am concerned because I am a person who has bad credit. I must admit, most being acquired by bad decisions and shall we say, very poor judgement regarding many things. I have realized that in the past I have been one of those people who felt sorry for myself for many years, trying to sugar coat the fact that I have acted irresponsibly in regrds to safe-guarding my precious credit. I have worked my entire life, working two jobs and at one point three. I went through and wasted many years holding on to that “down on my luck because I am a single mother with young twin girls” feeling. I have not had a credit card in years. I have been enrolled in school over the past few years. I now wonder if I have made yet another mistake because of student loan debt. I have two young daughters that I tell regularly to be smart with money and make sure to protect your credit. I feel that all of my hard and sometimes very physical work should not be overlooked because of my credit, yet I completely understand the neccesity for employers to be sure who they are hiring. I am presently in a chapter 13. I will never give up.

    Reply

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