By Joyce Lain Kennedy


I was laid off a year ago after 13 years at the same company, applied for a loan modification on my home, missed several mortgage payments, and now I seem to be joining a large new American leisure class -- the permanently unemployed.

I've had several successful interviews, or so I thought at the time, but my credit checks were negative because of the missed mortgage payments and my being out of work. I wasn't hired for any of those jobs -- the one offer I had was rescinded after my credit check came back. What would you do in my circumstances? -- J.J.

Scary development.

What a mess! Too many good working people are being caught in a Catch-22: Need a job? Get money. Need money? Get a job. Many victims are blameless. But risk-adverse employers don't bother to check details and just avoid hiring anyone with a poor credit review who theoretically could cause them grief.

Credit checks have been a routine job-buster for as long as I can remember, but at least, in this struggling economy, the issue is now getting a public airing. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing to examine the use of credit history as a discriminatory barrier to employment. A panel of legal experts and social scientists explained to the commission how the credit check as a screening practice can be extremely unfair to American workers.

How widespread is the credit-screening practice? About 60 percent of employers are thought to conduct credit checks on some or all of their job applicants, usually after interviewing them or making conditional offers. Small companies (those with fewer than 250 employees) are less likely to use credit checks.

Get the facts.

The credit-check story is complex. Bone up on it to see if you can learn anything that might be used to help you in the future. Do a Web search for "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission credit check." And look for an article on ThirdAge ( titled "Credit Check a Common but Concerning Step for Job Applicants"; it suggests actions anyone can take when worried that credit trouble may affect the job search.

For example, the law requires that you give written permission for a credit check, but before you sign a permission document, recite an "elevator speech" explaining what happened to your credit and how it does not impact your ability to do the job under discussion. Add that you will not be handling money and that your references are A-plus for ability, character and honesty. It may not change anything, but at least you're fighting back.

Usual suspects. Everyone seems to suggest entrepreneurship -- OK, but can you scare up the capital to start even a teeny-tiny business? Lower your expectations -- OK, but can you land a custodial job in local or state government when public agencies are trimming down, not beefing up? Work temp for a staffing firm -- OK, but what special skills do you bring to temporary job services when their application lines are around the block?

Familiar answers to your dilemma don't work too well in the aftermath of a recession that has left 15 million Americans unemployed and falling behind with their bills.

Personal contacts count.

The people you know are a key to unlocking your problem. People at all income levels have personal contacts. Don't be reluctant to use them.

A personal contact can't get you hired, but a personal contact can get you in the door. And a personal contact can find out in advance if the company uses credit checks. When the answer is yes, the connecting contact can prepare the way by explaining the circumstances of your temporary credit problem and giving assurances that you are an excellent worker.

When you find published openings in job ads, use social networking sites (such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) to see if you have a personal contact for the company, especially one who works there.

Credit-check knockouts are a horrible problem for today's beleaguered job seekers. The EEOC needs to act sooner rather than later -- or watch the mushrooming of an involuntary American leisure class.

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