Can bankruptcy keep you from getting a job?

credit_check A couple of months ago I interviewed for a new job at a large corporation. They extended a verbal offer that was contingent on successful completion of a background check. I accepted the offer, but the contingency made me really anxious. I don’t have a criminal record, and I knew there were no discrepancies in my employment history or educational background, but there’s definitely a public record of my Chapter 7, and I was concerned about its impact on my formerly strong credit history. And I had no idea whether our foreclosure would show up, since it’s been in a holding pattern for more than a year.

Now, ethically I have a huge problem with prospective employers running credit checks (and doing drug testing, but that’s a whole other rant). I can understand criminal background checks, but I believe a credit check is invasive, and that barring criminal activity, it’s none of the company’s business what you do on your own time. But despite the attempts of HR 3149, most job-seekers still have to contend with credit checks. I did want the job, so I went ahead and authorized it, but it had me worried.

I know that the law offers some protection against employment discrimination due to bankruptcy, in the form of 11 U.S.C. § 525(b). However, in a recent appeal against this, the Fifth Circuit held that while § 525(a) expressly prohibits governmental units from denying employment to a person on the basis of bankruptcy status, § 525(b) does not contain that same prohibition for private employers. And if they don’t feel like a legal battle, there’s also the very real possibility that an employer could come up with an alternative “reason” to not hire someone after finding a bankruptcy or bad credit.

I was told by a friend who works at my prospective company that the background check is just a formality and that I shouldn’t worry about it. But it took a good ten days to complete, so I had plenty of time to fret over it. Thankfully, my friend turned out to be right. I was on the phone with the HR rep when he reviewed my background check, and he didn’t mention the bankruptcy at all. He said everything was fine, and wanted to know how soon I could start.

I did request a copy of the background check after it was complete. In addition to the standard criminal, employment, and education validation, here’s what they looked for:

  • Summary of credit data: Public Records, Collections, Trade Accounts, Negative Accounts, Satisfactory Accounts, Inquiries
  • Public record detail: Source, Date Reported, Docket #, Court Type, Record Type, ECOA, Liability, Assets, Amount, Date Paid, Plaintiff/ Attorney
  • Tradeline detail shown for each account: MOP (status), Remarks, Opened, High Credit, Terms, Verified date, Credit Limit, Amount Past Due, Closed date, Balance, ECOA, Maximum Delinquency

Interesting note — 6 months post-discharge, ALL of my tradelines now say “Paid or paying as agreed.” They are also all listed as $0 balance, except my recent car loan and my outstanding student loan. I had 0 TLs in the Collections and Negative Accounts categories. And the foreclosure didn’t show up at all, I guess because it’s on hold and hasn’t become a public record yet. This is all as it should be, so I was happy to learn that it’s reporting accurately.

So — can bankruptcy prevent you from getting a job? Although it didn’t in my case, the answer is still yes. The Fifth Circuit says it’s legal, even though it goes against the very intent of bankruptcy as a fresh start. But my experience gives me hope that employers are less concerned about it now than they used to be, and that they may be thinking more realistically about the millions of bankruptcy filers out there since the recession started. For me, being offered this new job feels like another step past last year’s unpleasantness and on the road to a happier future. I love a story with a happy ending. Now, if we could only get WH™ a job too…

8 thoughts on “Can bankruptcy keep you from getting a job?

  1. Bill

    I recently filed for bankruptcy and my background check is on it’s 10th day now. I don’t need my employer knowing what my credit history is. That’s none of their business anyway.

  2. Claire Post author

    Bill, I totally agree…they really don’t need to know. Wishing you the best of luck with your background check.

  3. Pingback: 7 myths about life after bankruptcy and foreclosure | Reality Tiara

  4. dutarusto

    Allow me to share my story with filing bankruptcy due to poor financial habits. I filed for Chapter 7 back in 2009, and my bad debts were discharged. I was given a clean slate to rebuild my credit. Four months after the discharge, I was approved for an unsecured visa credit card. After a year, I had 4 credit cards. All kept well. Then six months later, I was approved for an auto loan. When I felt like it was time to leave my crappy job of 10 years (retail) , I gave my notice of resignation (retail) and applied to other jobs where they did consumer reports. The two jobs that checked my credit report, didn’t question it and I passed both of them. So, I ended up with a better job and I am happy to say that I only have 18 months left before my car is paid off, and after this semester I will graduate with my associates degree. So, don’t let bankruptcy be a scare factor when seeking employment. Rebuilding your credit will help you. Here are some tips that I can express to you that will help you. Something that I had to find out for myself. And no….you don’t need those “Bankruptcy Experts Who Sell Books”.
    Tips After Discharge:
    1. Check your credit report once a year
    2. Obtain a new credit card….preferably 2 to 3 of them (PAY THEM ON TIME)
    3. Make sure that you NO new collection debts or bad debts after the bankruptcy is closed. New Good Debts will count when they do perform a credit check for employment purposes.
    4. THIS ONE IS MOST IMPORTANT: Maintain a job…even if its a crappy one. Like I did. Longevity with employment has a stronger affect on whether or not you get that good job you want. Verses being lazy or not being employed for a while. And it is true what your bankruptcy lawyer has already told you….”There is life after bankruptcy!” I am living proof of that.

  5. tammi

    I lost my job (2years ago)due to a spinal fusion surgery and had to file bankruptcy, I did keep my house (so far) and applied for a part time job, accepted the job, did drug test etc…got call that my background check showed bankruptcy so I lost the job I was to start on Monday

    1. Claire Post author

      Tammi, I’m sorry to hear that. Your financial information is personal and none of their business, and bankruptcy is not a crime! Evidently some employers are more understanding than others.

  6. Pingback: Four years after bankruptcy | Reality Tiara

  7. thanks

    Thank you very much for this post, I have just been offered a job on contingency of a background check and it had me worried. I recently moved to the west coast from NYC and honestly never had to complete a BGC. I have a chapt 13 that was just discharged this last month. after scouring the web for any solace I came across your post which is very pragmatic and comforting. I just wanted to say thank you.

    I would agree, I think a employers doing credit checks is just out of line and invasive. I have no choice but to accept this round because just moving here I need some income. So I will proceed and see what they say.


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