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Can a Personal Bankruptcy Prevent You From Getting a Job?

Personal bankruptcy? Kiss your dream job good bye...

For quite some time, it's been standard for financial, gaming and government employees to have their credit reports checked by their employers. After all, we don't want criminals working in the government (insert your favorite joke here).

But now, the "Credit Police" are infiltrating other industries as well.

And what really irks me is, they don't have the guts to just come out and say "We don't want people with bad credit working for us."

No, instead they're using September 11th (911) and an increase in workplace violence as an excuse to check our credit reports. That's pretty low.

Recently, pre-employment screening agencies have noticed a surge in requests for full background checks, which can investigate credit reports as well as criminal records, driving records, and employment and education history.

Alert Staffing reports that about 50 to 70 percent of all companies currently review credit reports, which not only reveal bankruptcies but also liens, judgments, and loan and credit card payment history.

Many companies simply believe that trustworthiness and creditworthiness go hand in hand. Personally, I think that's a crock! I know lots of rich people with high credit scores, who I wouldn't trust to watch Sparky, my pet goldfish, not to mention my money. On the other hand, I can list hundreds of people who've filed bankruptcy and have poor credit scores, who I'd trust my life with. However, most business owners believe how we handle things in our personal lives is a sign of how we would manage a company's assets.

Employers want to know whether a potential employee will be a security risk, subject to bribery, and willing to give unauthorized individuals access to company information. In fact, a friend of mine who used to work at one of the national credit reporting agencies tells me they were always investigating their employees, because of the fear employees might take money to change credit reports. He tells me it was common to see people escorted out of the building by security after they were busted.

The bottom line is that some employers believe that bad credit shows little responsibility and little regard for secrets. But, believe it or not, there's some good news in all this. First of all, the bankruptcy code (even after the recent changes to the law) prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants solely because of the bankruptcy. Also, job applicants and employees up for promotion are not obligated to tell a potential or current employer about their bankruptcy.

So, what should you do when you apply for a new job after you've filed bankruptcy? I usually recommend two strategies: For jobs where you know your credit will be reviewed, be upfront and honest about your bankruptcy, and the circumstances that caused it. Honesty is a powerful tool for getting what you want after bankruptcy.If you're applying for a job that you aren't sure whether or not they will review your credit, make them love you first...then during the second or third interview explain what happened. Let's call this strategy "delayed candor." :-) We all know that bankruptcies aren't always caused by financial irresponsibility. Don't underestimate your potential employer's ability to understand your situation.

In such a credit-conscious climate, one of your best weapons is to know your rights. While employers can legally terminate or deny a job or promotion to those with bad credit, Section 525 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code prohibits discrimination based solely on bankruptcy.

Furthermore, Sections 604, 606, and 615 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act require employers to follow a very specific set of rules in order to review your credit reports.

First, they must notify you in writing that your credit may be used in the job evaluation and obtain your written authorization before pulling your credit reports. But remember, sometimes they'll "notify" you in the fine print! In other words, they'll "tell" you without really "telling" you—if you know what I mean. So make sure you always read the fine print on all those forms the human resources person hands you during the interview.

Second, if your employer or potential employer sees something on your credit reports that may cause them to not hire you or fire you, they must send you a "pre-adverse action disclosure." (That sounds worse than a subpoena—doesn't it?) But the pre-adverse action disclosure is actually your friend. It gives you time and an opportunity to fix incorrect information on your credit reports. However, the burden is on you to act fast.

If an employer fires you because of information on your credit reports, they must provide you with an "adverse action notice." The notice should contain contact information for the credit reporting agency supplying the report. It should also specify that you have the right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information the reporting agency furnished and request an additional free report within 60 days.

OK, how do you prove if you were discriminated against because of a bankruptcy on your credit reports?

Well, it ain't easy!

The chances for successful legal recourse are better if the only negative item on your credit report is bankruptcy. Otherwise, it will be difficult for you to prove you have been discriminated against because of your bankruptcy and not your bad credit.

The truth is, if an employer doesn't want to hire you because of the bankruptcy on your credit reports, then it's pretty easy for them to claim they didn't hire you for another reason. But if an employer offers you the job and then rescinds it, and the background check shows all high marks except the bankruptcy, your chances of mounting a successful case increase. Bottom line: If the ONLY negative item on your credit reports is a bankruptcy, you have a better chance of getting the job than you do if you have lots of other negative items on your credit reports.

This is why it's so important to make sure you get copies of all three of your credit reports. Review them carefully and if there are any inaccurate, incomplete, misleading, unverifiable, or outdated items on your reports, get them taken off. I suggest you use an attorney who specializes in credit law. It costs a few dollars—but I think the end results are worth it. The law firm I used was a life saver.

About the Author: Stephen Snyder is the founder of the After Bankruptcy Foundation a non-profit organization that provides free bankruptcy information and recovery steps. Stephen also writes a free weekly newsletter on bankruptcy recovery.

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