Open Thread: “The Credit-History Pariah Class”

Kudos to the NYTimes editorial board for this:

Research has shown that someone with a poor credit history is not automatically a poor job prospect. Nevertheless, millions of Americans who have emerged from the recession with medical debts or a record of late payments are at risk of being denied jobs by companies that use credit histories to screen applicants. Several states have placed limits on this practice. But until the federal government engages the issue more aggressively, employers will consign otherwise qualified applicants to a kind of pariah class that gets shut out of the job market….

Advocates of screening say that it provides insight into an applicant’s character. But those who seek bankruptcy often do so because of unmanageable medical debt. A new study of nearly 1,000 low- and middle-income families by Demos, a research and policy group, suggests that most of those who suffered degraded credit ratings during the recession either lost their job, lacked medical insurance or incurred debt when they were injured or got sick. “Poor credit,” the study says, “tells a story of medical misfortune far more convincingly than one of poor work habits.” The study also underscored the fact that African-American families have been disproportionately affected. They had fewer assets to start with, and were easy targets for predatory subprime lenders who led them deeper into debt.

There are several possible steps to be taken. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has sued two companies for using screening programs that had a disparate impact on minority applicants, could seek to ban the practice outright. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could require credit reporting agencies to promptly clear up old mistakes, instead of dragging out the corrections process for years, as happens now. The Federal Trade Commission should enforce a law that requires employers to notify job applicants when they are rejected for credit reasons, so they can dispute mistakes in the record.

But the real answer may be for Congress to say that except in clearly defined circumstances — positions that require security clearance, for instance — no worker should be turned away solely on the basis of credit history.

68 replies
  1. 1
    Kitty says:

    I’m so sick of our betters needing insight into our character when they are the liars, cheaters and thieves.

  2. 2
    jak says:

    Don’t expect the federal government to do much as they are just as guilty I suspect.

  3. 3
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    Just this.

    We need tumbrels.

  4. 4
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    Fuck the poor, that is basically what they are saying. This week DH has to have a sleep apnea device applied, gonna cost us $350.00 up front. So yeah, you are going to die unless you pay us $350.00. Blackmail anyone?

  5. 5
    raven says:

    Just finished watching my newly arrived bootleg copy of “American Hot Wax” a film loosely based on Allan Freed and the beginning of rock and roll. It’s got Chuck Berry, Frankie Ford and Jerry Lee Lewis in the concert portion but the made-up rock and roll characters are great as is the music. It’s got Loraine Newman as a Carole King character, Jay Leno as Freed’s driver and Tim McIntire as Freed. Lot’s of times I remember films as being really good but the turn out to be less so. This one holds up quite well. I don’t care what people say rock and roll is here to stay.

  6. 6
    ArchTeryx says:

    This is just another artifact of the fact that there ain’t enough damned jobs. There’s several pariah classes being created. Not enough education? Too much education? Over 50? Bad credit rating? Unemployed? Employers are screening out so many “pariah” groups, they end up with no candidates.

    So what do they do? They just let the job go unfilled, and jack up every existing employee’s workload. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Boost the jobs back to Clinton-era levels, and you’d be amazed how quickly destructive practices like this go away.

    It’s all about the jobs. Otherwise, regulators can do nothing but play whack-a-mole – with several people for every job opening, employers will invent as many pariah classes as necessary.

  7. 7


    I’m so sick of our betters needing insight into our character when they are the liars, cheaters and thieves.

    They don’t want any competition from lower down the ladder.

  8. 8
    Keith G says:

    Many “great persons” in our past were failed entrepreneurs, or problem drinkers, or legally challenged in their previous lives. It was this second-chance nature that many found so enticing. It often also made for a more interesting type of person in our leadership class.

    The omni-data society may cause it’s own undoing.

  9. 9
    Kip the Wonder Rat says:

    It’s another “metric” that the most fucked-up part of ANY organization, HR, is using because they are lazy…and fucked-up.

    I mean think about it. They have no basis for using this metric. Nothing but a collective hunch from a bunch of dolts who can’t figure out how to pour piss from a boot with instructions on the heel. BUT, it makes their job easier because they’ve in part defined their job as percentage of applicants screened out.

    Result? I have three positions open, one for more than a year (and in this economy!), because these idiots keep sending me mismatched candidates, who, I guess, have great credit ratings.

  10. 10
    Kitty says:

    @Roger Moore I didn’t consider that. Makes sense!

  11. 11
    raven says:

    @Keith G: Well, I’m not great but. . .

  12. 12
    Todd says:

    @Keith G:

    Many “great persons” in our past were failed entrepreneurs, or problem drinkers, or legally challenged in their previous lives.

    Grant and Truman come to mind.

  13. 13
    jheartney says:

    The real underlying problem is the soft labor market. There’s a large variety of stupid reasons given for not hiring people (credit history, lack of current employment, irrationally specific experience requirements), but none of them would even come up if there were a real demand for workers. (I remember the late 90’s – if you couldn’t find work then you weren’t trying.) The reason for these “rules” is that they’re a quick way to winnow down an overlarge stack of applications.

    Rather that treating the symptom (dumbass hiring rules), we ought to tackle the disease – lack of economic opportunity caused by slow growth.

  14. 14
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Kip the Wonder Rat:

    For some reason your post reminded me of this Edwin Markham quatrain I memorized back in about 1956:

    He drew a circle that shut me out-
    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle and took him in!

  15. 15
    ArchTeryx says:

    @jheartney: Great minds think alike!

  16. 16
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    Right. Congress. You slay me, you really do.

  17. 17
    ruviana says:

    Back in the late 80s, when I was a shuffling grad student, I had a dream that a job I was up for (this part was true, I was up for a job), turned me down because my credit was bad (as indeed it was). I thought the dream was a hoot and told everyone about it with much hilarity. These days I think about that dream a lot.

  18. 18
    Todd says:

    OT – More hilarity. Sarah Palin combines Passover AND Easter greetings, each in languages she struggles with.I guess that making separate Facebook entries would take too much effort.

    Todd and I and our family send our best wishes this evening as Jewish people around the world celebrate Passover, commemorating their deliverance from bondage and their Exodus to the Land of Israel. This timeless and beautiful story reminds us of the universal human aspiration for freedom and that the Almighty hears the cries of a suffering people and fulfills His promises. Chag kasher V’Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.

    And yesterday, Palm Sunday, was the beginning of the holiest of weeks for Christians. During this time, we honor the sacrifice of Jesus, reflect on amazing grace, and celebrate resurrection power!

    “And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.” –Mark 11:8-10

    – Sarah Palin

  19. 19
    SFAW says:


    Back in the early 2000s, we’d often hear employers whining that the new engineers (or whatever) want all these perqs! Like a ping-pong table, or maybe free soda, or pizza brought in once a week. The nerve of those peons, thinking that they might want to be treated slightly better than Foxconn workers!

    My comment during those heady days was, and remains today: hiring is cyclical, and when the employers once again have the upper hand (as they have for five-plus years now), they will fuck over anyone and everyone they can, BECAUSE they can.

    So, if the cycle ever goes back to favoring the employees, my pre-emptive response to the whining employers is: until you assholes start behaving like humans ALL the time, instead of those times when you’re FORCED TO, y’all can go fuck yourselves, eight ways from Sunday, with a rusty pitchfork.

    Apologies if I’m being too subtle.

  20. 20
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @Todd: And next year in Jerusalem.

    She’s already planning Spring Break, ’14? The potential for gaffes would be epic.

  21. 21
    Irish Steel says:

    Advocates of screening say that it provides insight into an applicant’s character

    Can I not just spend a weekend in the stocks and we’ll call it even?

  22. 22
    ArchTeryx says:

    @SFAW: Oh, I think you are being too subtle. Tell them what you REALLY think.

    Trouble is, you can’t tell ALL Of them to fuck themselves. Still have to take a job from someone, unless you go into business for yourself. (And that’s the ultimate revenge on those bastards – especially if you come back as a consultant, for 10-20 times your hourly rate as an employee).

  23. 23
    SFAW says:

    @Keith G:

    Many “great persons” in our past were failed entrepreneurs, or problem drinkers, or legally challenged in their previous lives.

    Maybe THAT’S what George W. Bush was talking about when he joked about hitting the Trifecta. Well, except for the “ontapaneur” part, since I don’t think Arbusto, Harken, or any of the others qualify him as an entrepreneur. But he certainly failed at business.

    Of course, since timing is everything, he got lucky on 9/11.

  24. 24
    Todd says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist:

    She’s already planning Spring Break, ’14? The potential for gaffes would be epic.

    She’s the kind of girl that introduces her family when she hears a crowd chanting “show us your boobs”.

  25. 25
    YellowJournalism says:

    I’m loving the traffic protest that they did in Detroit today. Rachel is reporting on it right now.

  26. 26
    SFAW says:

    Sorry, I guess I gotta work on my clarity. Thanks for wising me up.

    The GFY is for when the whiners start complaining about their pampered employees getting a 3 percent raise, or having to leave early one day to pick up the kids from day care, and so forth.

    If I believed in God, I’d want Him to reveal Himself as a vengeful version of John Rawls. It might usher in a new age of Enlightened Employers. Either that, or he’d consign them to Hell PFQ.

  27. 27
    SFAW says:


    Bless you, child.

    I haven’t laughed out loud at a blog post since … well, five minutes ago, actually. But the laugh yours elicited was louder.

  28. 28

    Well I just saw a BBC program called Time Watch, and the episode was on the Black Death. It wasn’t morbid curiosity on my part (I think!) just was wondering about the time frame involved. So many manor houses were left without workers that the survivoring tenants called the shots, got better wages, and even proclamations from Kings could get the uppity peasants back for less than a fair rate. Now I am wondering what it will take in this society to bring the worker back to that level of desirability. Plague seems a tad drastic for my taste.

  29. 29
    Comrade Mary says:

    … aaaaaand I’m now getting “bigger is better” credit score ads from Trans Union. Keep on not being evil, Google.

  30. 30
    Davis X. Machina says:

    If you had HR departments in the 15th century, they’d have had a score for ‘sanctifying grace‘, and made the cut based on that.

    Blessed be the Market, the righteous judge.

  31. 31
    cmorenc says:


    I’m so sick of our betters needing insight into our character when they are the liars, cheaters and thieves.

    …and that’s exactly why they’re so cynically suspicious about applicants for employment, cause their sensibilties about human nature have been formed by looking in the mirror every day. Liars and cheaters are ok with them, so long as they’re successful liars and cheaters, but they cannot stand the whiff of personal financial failure from whatever cause, because to them, that suggests if not fecklessness, then at least incompetence. Thieves are ok too so long as they are people skilled at appropriating value through means that are technically legal, even though the means amount to stealing from an ethical point of view. For example, predatory corporate maneuvers which siphon off assets, leaving the company unable to satisfy pension obligations to its employees. A perfect example? Bain Capital.

  32. 32
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @cmorenc: You see this with political reporters, the acolytes of the Cult of the Gut, the vergers in the First Church of Savvy.

    Because they don’t take the business of running the country seriously, they can’t believe anyone actually takes the business of running the country seriously.

    This is why their first impulse is to impute hypocrisy, or naivety, or stupidity, to anyone they catch taking the business of running the country seriously.

    They’re only really interested in assessing how well people can fake being interested in all this stuff that savvy people know doesn’t matter.

    And so you get theater reviews instead of political journalism.

  33. 33
    Redshirt says:

    Any idea what general personal debt was like in the 1950’s and 1960’s? Even into the 70’s? I get the sense it was very low, even with home ownership.

  34. 34
    PeakVT says:

    @Redshirt: Here’s a graph. FRED has tons of data for questions like that.

  35. 35
    Redshift says:

    One of the companies the EEOC sued over this practice was Kaplan Higher Education Corporation. Heh.

    And in the NYT article about it, there’s an auto-generated widget for “Add to Portfolio: Washington Post Co.”

  36. 36
    Redshirt says:

    @PeakVT: Thanks. What’s that chart showing?

  37. 37
    Ruckus says:

    The server may be faster but FYWP is still a valid saying.

    SO FYWP for eating my comment.

  38. 38
    Cassidy says:

    @Litlebritdifrnt: Have you tried craigslist? You might be able to just buy one for that amount.

  39. 39
    NotMax says:


    In the 50s and 60s, personal credit cards were not prevalent. Even gas station cards were not often seen. Too, places that accepted credit cards were hardly ubiquitous.

    Big ticket loans (house, auto, etc.), individual store installment charge accounts and layaway plans were the norm.

    Diner’s Club was the market leader in the 50s (and likely into the 60s), but at that time full payment each month was required, so it was more of a business vehicle than a personal one. It wasn’t until 1958 or so that Bank of America tried rolling out personal cards in select locales, and not until 1966 that Interbank (later Mastercard) began.

    So comparisons are tricky (and must take into account that the percentage of personal debt is tied to the availability of revolving, as opposed to installment, credit issuing entities), as the credit industry was not nearly yet a driving force of the economy.

    re: the FP post: So not all that long ago, the bankruptcy process was purposefully made much more stringent and onerous and now those who manage to navigate the new system get a double whammy. Hoocudanode?

  40. 40
    BethanyAnne says:

    It was an interesting day. We had a new programmer start in the department about 3 weeks ago. I’ve suspected Tourette’s. He whispers profanity at himself lots, and sometimes it’s almost a speaking voice. A couple of other symptoms matched wiki, so, you know, it’s not like he told me. Just tried to quietly figure out what was up.

    Today about the middle of the day, he was gone. He went to a meeting, and didn’t come back. Instead, we got an email saying that effective immediately, don’t share any of our projects with him, and see our boss if we have questions.

    About 2 min later, boss came into the lab and collected his laptop. Boss seemed sort of shaking his head. I looked at him and said “Totally not my business, so I won’t ask”. He walked over, pointed at my computer, and said, “See this computer? I’m really happy with the designs that keep showing up on this computer.”

    I’m a designer, not a coder. It was about the most perfect response he could have made; I’ve only been there 6 weeks, and it’s hard to not be paranoid when some other newb gets cut. I do feel sorry for the guy who was cut. I don’t know his story, and no clue what happened.

  41. 41
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @NotMax: There were all kinds of petty debt and retail credit before there were things like interbank cards — individual merchants extended credit, and people bought groceries, ice, coal, ‘on tick’, as my Irish grandfather used to call it.

  42. 42
    Hill Dweller says:

    The Daily Show is back from break, and as bad as ever.

    Their take on Obama’s Israel trip is just f’n awful.

  43. 43
    BethanyAnne says:

    Oh, and this thread about debt and such is about the perfect place for this. The Costs of Capitalism’s Crisis – Who Will Pay?. I’m in the middle of “Debt, The First 5,000 Years”. It’s really good. I’d say the Great Recession is getting me interested in digging out answers.

  44. 44
    The Moar You Know says:

    @BethanyAnne: I had one of those a few years back. It escalated.

    Meth. There was not a lot of dignity in this person’s exit. It involved a “put up your hands and step away from the computer, ma’am”. As the sysadmin, I hate terminations like that. We get them rarely.

    By coincidence, her credit rating was in the toilet. Bankruptcy.

  45. 45
    Ruckus says:

    @Davis X. Machina:
    And they were almost all small businesses who knew the person. They might trust you once with a small purchase but mostly they were regular customers.

    My comment that got eated was about the original post – credit histories. There is no correlation to a persons credit history and job performance, not in this day and age or in the last 30-40 yrs. As has been pointed out this is about lazy HR departments thinking they need a stronger pre-screening process and the job market. One more way to thin the herd and have control over your working life. It’s like working in a company town for the company, shopping at the company store, you become an indentured servant, like it or not they effectively own you.

  46. 46
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    I am pretty sure Rachel Maddow said that OFA has announced its opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, which seems to me a pretty big announcement. There’s nothing about it on the OFA website, which address is still barackobama dot com, and google doesn’t bring up anything other than some pre-emptive Republican butt-hurt. Anybody know anything more concrete?

  47. 47
    Pongo says:

    Insurers pull this shit, too. A bad credit score apparently reflects your driving ability better than your actual driving record, as well. All perfectly legal. We need federal ‘Poor People Non-discrimination’ statutes.

  48. 48
    Mnemosyne says:


    It’s more about ass-covering, frankly — if the person you hire turns out to be a bust, then you the HR drone couldn’t possibly have predicted that because you had a number that proved they were okay. It’s an “objective” measure that absolves the recruiter of any responsibility for a bad recruit.

  49. 49
    SFAW says:


    Back in the 1970s-80s, the CYA line was “No one ever got fired for picking IBM”

    OK, admittedly, it wasn’t a line used by about 250,000,000 Americans, but still …

  50. 50
    Ruckus says:

    Agreed it’s used that way but it’s widespread use is also a way to thin the herd, making it look like there are few if any “qualified” applicants. If there aren’t then it’s justified to move the job overseas or hire people who work for shit wages. Always follow the money. That’s always the underlying cause.

  51. 51
    Ruckus says:

    It was used a lot longer than that.
    And many people who it applied to should have been fired. Out of a cannon preferably.

  52. 52
  53. 53
    PeakVT says:

    @Redshirt: Household debt to GDP.

  54. 54
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Hill Dweller: That was surprisingly foul and dismissive, given how good the buzz was in the liberal media of Israel.

  55. 55
    Hill Dweller says:

    @FlipYrWhig: The apology to Turkey was actually consequential. I’m not sure if Stewart is being ignorant or an asshole for the sake of “balance”.

    Also, too, Stewart’s comments leading in to Madrigal’s gun control bit were awful.

  56. 56
    Chris says:

    @Kip the Wonder Rat:

    Having spent four years looking at HR departments from the other side, I’m forced to agree with your assessment of the worthlessness of these people.

  57. 57
    Groucho48 says:


    Great movie! Saw it when it first came out and loved it. Saw it once again maybe ten years ago on one of the movie channels and it held up pretty well. Shame it isn’t available honestly anywhere.

  58. 58
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Hill Dweller: he’s susceptible to the “just sit ’em down and tell ’em to knock off the bullshit” approach of former heartthrob John McCain.

  59. 59
    NotMax says:


    Yes, exactly as I pointed out. Merchant payment plans then (with extremely,extremely rare exceptions) were installment plans (fixed payment amount per payment period and fixed number of payments) as opposed to revolving (option to pay a floating minimum or in some rare cases just the interest), the latter being the engine of growth in personal credit cards.

    And yes, there were also ‘pay me when you can’ arrangements with individual neighborhood merchants as well, but there is no reliable long-term statistical base on the scope in a macro sense of that type of person-to-person transaction, pretty much just extrapolation from anecdotal estimates.

  60. 60
    Linnaeus says:

    Folks, that’s capitalism.

  61. 61
    TriassicSands says:

    In Republican America, getting seriously ill is the moral equivalent of bad character. People with bad genes should have chosen better parents. What could be more obvious?

  62. 62
    Fred says:

    Weeding out people with health issues may be a feature not a bug.

  63. 63
    SFAW says:


    Weeding out people with the wrong kind of health issues may be a feature not a bug

    Diseases of the rich being the “right” kind, of course.

  64. 64
    Steve in the ATL says:

    To be fair to HR, credit checks are usually post-offer. Companies don’t want to spend money on background checks for mere applicants. It’s also illegal to refuse to hire based on a bankruptcy filing, but employers often find another reason (pretext, for you legal types) to reject the candidate.

  65. 65
    nominus says:

    If anyone ever asks me about my bankruptcy, I just tell them that it was a neat trick I learned from my bank, my mortgage company (and the next company that inherited them), several other companies I used to do business with, and quite a few consultants I’ve known.

  66. 66
    Lawrence says:

    And what are the odds there are any errors on your credit history? My father, who has the same name as I, declared bankruptcy in 1988, right after I graduated from high school. Not able to tell which one of us should get the two mortgage defaults and thick slab of MasterCard entropy, they listed it for both of us. Could have been a database error, though I would have used SSN as primary key, or at least a join, but that’s just how I code. This is all pre internet, so I wrote letters, many of them. The collective response from Equifax, Trans Union and Experian was “La La La, I can’t hear you, you’ll have to sue me, oh but you’re poor, so F Off already!” For those of you who remember, banks issued something called a check guaruntee card to creditworthy checking acount customers in those days. It looked like a Visa. I don’t know if you could buy anything with it, I never got one. My point is that merchants would not accept your check without one, so even your checking account was half useless with bad credit. Luckily, in those days it only lasted for seven years.

  67. 67
    Earl says:

    @Keith G:That is a very refreshing observation

  68. 68
    Isabell says:

    The plant is used to make an herbal tea called rooibos tea,
    red tea, or South African red tea. What I like best is that they explain what
    each type of tea is. Over three hundred years ago,
    native inhabitants of the mountainous regions
    of South Africa’s Western Cape were the first to collect wild rooibos and make it into tea.

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