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How 100-word credit report letters of explanation can help job hunters

7 tips on how to clear the air for potential employers

By Jen A. Miller

If you're on a job hunt, but your credit's hit the skids, your chances of being hired may be helped if you file a 100-word explanation with your credit reports.

WHAT MAY STAND BETWEEN
YOU AND A JOB? 100 WORDS
100-word statement

Many employers check job applicants' credit, so if yours is dinged, adding a 100-word statement of explanation to your credit report may help explain the problem. See:

Forty-seven percent of employers run credit checks on potential employees, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Even though Oregon recently banned credit checks for employment, and it's already illegal in Hawaii and Washington, checking your credit history is still fair game in most of the United States when it comes to getting a job.

If you've suffered a credit hit that you think will harm your chances of being hired, you can have your say by filing a general statement with the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). It's a 100-word letter that will be sent to anyone who pulls your credit report.

"The purpose is for the consumer to be able to provide some additional context for a lender reviewing the content of the credit report," says Steven Katz, senior director of consumer education for TransUnion, one of the three major credit bureaus.The same goes for employers, too.

Credit bureaus differ in 100-word policies
Experian allows multiple statements -- one general statement that applies to the report as a whole, and then one specific statement per item on your credit report, though you can only submit 10 statements through their online form. Any more than that, and you must contact an Experian rep via phone. TransUnion allows you to file both a statement of dispute AND a consumer statement. Equifax allows only one general statement that addresses your entire credit report. (See How to file your 100-word credit report statement.)

The general statement is slightly different from a statement of dispute, which is also a 100-word letter you can attach to your report. In a statement of dispute, you're saying that the debt isn't yours. With a general statement, you're 'fessing up to your credit hiccup.

"They are two different things," says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "A dispute is just what it sounds like -- you're challenging some information in the report, and the law governs how the bureau has to respond. When you file a general statement, it explains an extenuating circumstance and goes out with each credit inquiry.  It's your version of what happened and why, which may or may not make a difference in the creditor's eyes."

"If you see somebody who's got a checkerboard of late payments, putting the statement on there isn't going to explain seven or 10 years of a straggled payment here or there," says Equifax spokeswoman Dinah Watson. "But if they're all compact in a period of six months or a year, then it's important that the general statement is filed on your report."

The general statement won't affect your FICO credit score, but employers can't look at your FICO score anyway, says Larry Lambeth, president of Employment Screening Services, a company that provides pre-employment screenings for more than 6,000 companies in the United States and abroad. "We're getting the raw data that says what accounts you have and your balances."

7 tips for writing 100-word credit report statements
Here are seven tips for writing your 100-word general statement with future employment in mind.

1. Start early. If you can, start the process of filing your statement three months before the job hunt, says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Three months will give enough time to pull your credit report from the three credit bureaus, have anything that's not your debt investigated or removed, and give ample time to absolutely make sure your statement has been attached to your report for whenever the report is pulled. You can pull each of your three credit reports once a year from annualcreditreport.com.

2. Just the facts, ma'am.  "People sometimes think they have to write a novel," says Katz. "The clearer and more precise you are, putting the relevant information upfront, will help when someone is manually reviewing that information."

If, for example, medical bills wrecked your credit or put you out of work, you don't need to write out the whole story of what happened.  "Don't go into the detail of the diseases or treatment or situation," says Cunningham. Her suggested verbiage: "I had a serious medical event that resulted in loss of income."

People sometimes think they have to write a novel. The clearer and more precise you are, putting the relevant information upfront, will help when someone is manually reviewing that information.

-- Steven Katz
TransUnion

3. Give the date. If your credit decline stems from one incident, ask the reviewer to look at your history before the date that your credit was sent south.

"If they recently lost their job and want to point out that they had never missed a mortgage payment prior to that happening, that might be something they want to include in a statement," says Katz.

Lambeth says his company is seeing many more credit reports from people who have been affected by layoffs -- so you're not alone if this happened to you, and employers are getting used to seeing this situation on credit reports.

Lambeth's suggested verbiage: "I was laid off from my job. Please look at my credit history prior to..." and list the date of the layoff. 

4. Don't cast blame. "You want to make sure this is not a statement of excuse," says Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian.  

This isn't the space for sour grapes. You only have 100 words, and if you use every one to bad-mouth a creditor, it won't help your employment chances.

"The worst one we've ever seen is where the letter is bad-mouthing the person they owe money to," says Lambeth. "If you owe them money, stand up to the debt and admit that you owe it. Give a good reason -- and not that it's the other person's fault for trying to collect."

5. Proofread. Have someone else read the letter for you, and then read it out loud to yourself. The last thing you want is a simple mistake within those 100 words.

6. Get help. Not sure what to say? Call the customer service line of the credit bureau you're filing the letter with. Both Katz and Griffin said their bureaus' customer service representatives can help you write your letter. 

7. Speak up. If a potential employer is going to pull your credit report, you'll know it. You must give them written permission to check. The credit report is not part of a background check, either, so they must specifically and separately ask you for your OK on the credit report, says Lambeth.

While Cunningham stresses that you should still file the general letter, she suggests being proactive. "That may mean bringing it to the attention of the employer before he even sees it," she says. In that conversation, use the same tactics employed in writing the letter: Be concise, tell just the facts and don't cast blame. You'll have more than 100 words to explain your situation, and have the kind of back and forth conversation with your potential employer that you can't get through a letter.

If you are not given a job based on your credit report, the employer is required to give you a copy of the report it used. 

HOW TO FILE YOUR 100-WORD CREDIT REPORT STATEMENT
Credit bureau Mail Phone Online
Equifax Along with your 100-word statement, include your full name, date of birth, your current address and any previous addresses from the past five years, your Social Security number and the file number from your credit report. Mail it to: Equifax Consumer Services, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374. A phone number to call is included in your Equifax credit report. You'll find information about submitting an online statement in your Equifax credit report.
TransUnion When you send your statement, include your name, address and TransUnion file number. Send it to: TransUnion, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19022. (800) 916-8800 You'll find a clickable link in the statement field in the online version of your TransUnion credit report.
Experian When you mail your statement, include your full name, your addresses for the past two years, your Social Security number, date of birth, and the file number from your credit report. Also include a photocopy of a government-issued ID card, such as a driver's license, and a copy of a utility bill or bank statement, to authenticate your identity. (These won't be returned.) Mail it to: Experian, P.O. Box 2002, Allen, TX 75013, or look for a region-specific address on your credit report so you'll receive quicker service. (888) 397-3742 There's information in the online version of your Experian credit report.

See related: How to add a written statement to your credit report, Consumer credit report statement sample letters, How bad credit can affect your job search, How to dispute credit report errors

Published: November 5, 2010



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