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Bad Credit, Bad Applicant

Dr. Richard Weinblatt

Many folks applying for law enforcement jobs fret about such possible background issues as criminal history or driving record, but few consider the impact their credit report can have on them. Given the current national focus on economic and credit issues, the topic is particularly timely.

To start to understand how police background investigators, recruiters, police chiefs and sheriffs view an applicant’s credit, it is important to understand what it is and how a person’s action, or inaction, can affect the credit score. The three main credit-reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) use a number to help banks and other lenders to assess a borrower’s risk and, if a loan is approved, what interest rate to charge.

The number they used, called a FICO score (from the Fair Isaac Company) is derived from five categories – owed amounts, payment history, length of credit history, age of credit, and type of credit utilized (credit cards are looked at more than mortgages, for instance). Credit scores range from a low of 300 up the high 800s.

Police academy students have asked me if the ads for companies offering to clean up bad credit are above board. The true medicine for an ill credit report is time and consistency in paying owed amounts on time.

So why should an applicant worry about their credit history and FICO score? Because the administrators reviewing the application are concerned with that aspect of your life. As I mentioned in my previous PoliceLink.com article Getting Hired: It’s About the Patterns they look for patterns. Patterns of responsibility and patterns of irresponsibility. That sounds a lot like the way your FICO scored is figured.

Background investigators generally are not concerned if there is some reasonable debt in your life. They just want to be sure that you are consistently honoring your obligation towards that debt. The approach demonstrates the trait of responsibility that they believe will also become evident when you get hired as a law enforcer. The concept is along the lines of the old background investigator adage that goes something like this: “past behavior is a reliable indicator of future performance.”

While law enforcement agencies have long looked to credit as a part of the background packet, other employers are using the same tactic and even insurance companies have jumped on the bandwagon. All see it as an indicator of how someone has lived their life thus far and will continue to do so.

Law enforcement agencies also reason that someone with pressing financial issues may be tempted to solicit a bribe or swipe some cash during an open door residential alarm house search. The opportunities for ill-gotten gain are ever present in law enforcement. LE executives see someone with large financial pressures as not being able to resist the temptations as much as someone who has minimal economic concerns.

So, you ask, how can a bad credit score be fixed? Much like the drunk driver that thinks coffee will help them sober up, only time and good behavior can clean up the financial house. Consistently paying on time and eliminating particularly credit card debt is the path to take. Early steps such as using a secured, pre-paid credit card will help in the recovery from a bad credit score or worse, a bankruptcy.

On the other hand, not having credit cards or any loans outstanding can also give you a low credit score due to a lack of a pattern or credit history. Many young applicants to police agencies run into this issue as they still live with their parents and drive a car that is in their parents’ name. These youthful applicants need to get some form of easily obtained credit (such as a department store credit card) and demonstrate responsibility by dutifully paying the credit card company on time. That will help them build up their FICO credit score.

As the economy continues to squeeze local governmental revenue sources, law enforcement executives have gotten pickier with the applicants they choose to hire. What used to be a sellers market is now a buyers market that favors the agencies. More segments of our society are viewing law enforcement as a steady employer in uncertain times. Credit scores are another indicator that police departments and sheriff’s offices use to ensure that only the most qualified of applicants are culled from the pack.


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    hrcubsgirl

    5 months ago

    2 Comments

    My husband is a police office and his father had a quadruple by pass surgery, we had to leave our jobs and house to take care of him. Just because someone has a poor credit score does not mean that they are irresponsible. Its because of my husband's responsibility for his father that we have bad credit not because we were irresponsible. Do they even ask why or just assume?

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    mark13

    about 1 year ago

    8 Comments

    You have to be very careful about your credit report. It is best to take expert advice on this, but be careful before picking a financial advisor.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    satya13

    about 1 year ago

    10 Comments

    If having a bad credit report can cause so much problem then you should be careful with it. However, for Financially Savvy Audiences it would be easier to keep their financial records clean.

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    annewsha

    about 1 year ago

    2 Comments

    Unless you manage your personal finances properly you might end up facing trouble, so make sure that your report is clean and you should also save for future.

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    tom_hanks

    over 1 year ago

    4 Comments

    It is true that you must have a clean record but when it comes to financial issues you must not be rigid and make any impetuous decision you should approach with flexibility and planning.

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    banik

    over 1 year ago

    2 Comments

    It is better to have a clean record on this things, you can not afford to have these bad credits ruin things for you. Be very careful with your financial issues be it credit report, metal certificates or anything you have to be meticulous about the details.

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    jmartinez2310

    about 3 years ago

    2 Comments

    but you said that the credit have to be in good score to apply for law enforcement

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    1ANDIONE

    over 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    I have 14 years experience as a law enforcement officer with the same agency. I never had a problem at the agency. For family reasons I left the area and moved to another for a year. I moved back to my original area and was denied because of my credit alone. The entire time that I worked at the agency I was fully aware of most of my coworkers with major credit issues. I can agree with the writer however one issue of concern is once working or on the force -no one checks the credit-- if the officer with bad credit is already on the force and not taking bribes or any other illegal activities then that counters the thought all together.

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    revCCBeasley

    over 4 years ago

    2944 Comments

    Good article.

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    AKangel

    over 4 years ago

    4978 Comments

    WOW! very interesting! I understand why you would be looked at for being responsible. But just beacause you had credit card dept does not mean you were a Mall rat. It could simply mean that as a single parent you did not make enough at your job to cover everything and relied on credit to help suport your self and kid/kids. What if you went through a credit dept program and paid off your dept in full. Are you still looked at as irresponsible? kinda bummed!

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    ronjuice001

    over 4 years ago

    4 Comments

    Hmmm. Good article. I am applying for a Police position with the Bureau of Portland Police. And back in '07 I had the misfortune to befriend a scam artist and his girlfriend. Suffice it he took off with the vehicle I had co-signed for him. Our original aggreement was that I would co-sign for him and he would make payments on the vehicle. Well, hehe that did not work out, and the creditors started going after me. I tried every legal option to try and convince him to start paying his vehicle to no avail. So, as a last resort I filed and was approved for bankruptcy. I learned a lot of lessons from that, but unfortunately it could have been learned in better ways. Hopefully I can still get on with Portland Police though. Hears hoping.

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    swatj10

    almost 5 years ago

    760 Comments

    I feel that the whole credit background thing to get hired at a job is rediculous granted there are alot of people that don't pay their bills but, it does not mean they are bad workers here is something to consider just thought I would throw it out there. Why do you think people want these jobs with the great pay? Oh yeah TO PAY THEIR BILLS TO GET OUT OF DEBT. Im sorry for the emotional answer but, it is true there are many hard working people out there that bust their butt day in and day out and for what, low pay. Yes boys and girls that is the facts behind the economic status quo. I believe that using this as a means to make a desicion hire a applicant is a form of descrimination and that is not what this country was founded on

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    rod3245

    about 5 years ago

    714 Comments

    As someone that used to interview applicants and make recomendation to the Sheriff, I don't believe that credit rating should be a means to eliminate someone. The officer doing the background investigation needs to review the credit report and attempt to determine why it is bad. There are many things that cause poor credit that do not mean the person is a bad person. All I am saying is that everything should be looked at in depth so that a decision that is fair to both the department and the applicant is made.

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    dpichr

    about 5 years ago

    40 Comments

    This is my one major concern in my trek to becoming an officer. I am 40 and have owned my own business for almost 2 decades. After a battle with Uncle Sam in the 90's and 3 different attorneys I was forced to file a ch13 to get things paid...6 months from the completion of the 13 (4 years ago) I was injured when broadsided in an intersection,,,that ended my business and ability to complete the 13. My wife and I have been trying to pay the bills as best as possible and making arrangements when possible but obviously the credit standing is a train wreck. Having been laid off the first of the year has just been another nail in the credit coughin. My desire for law enforcement has never dwindled since my teens and luckily I am able to draw unemployment while I attempt to get hired on with a Dept but I am not to the background stage yet. I am concerned that I will find out that I have been spinning my wheels in this rather lengthy process. I have always been a rock when it comes to obligations and moral character but things happen that are an honest screw up,,,and then they have the potential of turning seriously messed up. I dont want pitty just a job that I can enjoy and spend the rest of my life doing while paying my obligations,,,period!!

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    Anonymous

    about 5 years ago

    Wow. Some seem angry at the advice given here. I have to say, I agree with it. Obviously, it isn't the entirety of a hiring agency's decision, but it IS taken into consideration because, as a law enforcer, you are setting the example for others in the community. If people see your name in the paper, getting sued for not paying your debts, that will reflect on you as an officer AND on your department! Everyone, including the interviewers, understand that bad things can happen- things like divorces, car wrecks, lay-offs, etc, but if you are a responsible person truly making an effort to handle your business, that will be evident to them.

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