Credit Score Poor Indication of Trustworthiness in Job Screening

If you’ve ever submitted a resume or filled out an application for a prospective job opportunity (I think most of us can hold up our hands as being included in partaking of this often stressful life experience), you may have been asked for credentials allowing your potential future boss to look into your credit score. And while this seems as intrusive as some of the questions that aren’t legally allowed during the application process (age, race, religion, etc.), employers often use this as a way to determine an applicant’s honesty. The way they figure it, if you’ve got a good credit score, you’re less likely to steal. It seems pretty reasonable and scientific, right?

If you enjoy spicy food, are you also inclined to be an excellent salsa dancer? If you watch trashy television, are you likely to engage in risky traffic maneuvers? If you’re afraid of clowns, are you in the habit of purchasing illegal firearms? If you’re a woman with short hair, are you disinclined to put up with nonsense from a parking enforcement officer? If you grew up near an airport, are you prone to falling asleep in front of loud factory machinery during a 12-hour shift?

Credit Score Poor Indication of Trustworthiness in Job ScreeningAll funny stuff aside, has any truly scientific study ever been done to correlate a relationship between a potential employee’s credit score and their overall trustworthiness? Now we can say yes, and we can agree that the original notion that there is a relationship between the two is a load of hogwash. Or bullpucky. (Or whatever livestock-attached euphemism you prefer.)

A team of researchers pooled from Louisiana State University, Texas Tech University, and Northern Illinois University reports that its recent study shows absolutely no link between a bad credit score and employee theft. Interestingly — and not contradictorily — the researchers did find a relation between credit scores and personality types.

Explains LSU researcher Jeremy Bernerth: “With regards to personality and credit — it makes sense that conscientiousness is related to good credit, but what was really interesting was that agreeableness was negatively related to your credit score. That suggests easy-going individuals actually have worse credit scores than disagreeable and rude individuals. This suggests that agreeable individuals might get themselves in trouble by co-signing loans for friends or family or taking out additional credit cards at the suggestion of store clerks.”

So it might be going a bit far to say that people with perfect credit scores are stick-in-the-mud jerks who can’t be bothered to help anyone but themselves — such generalizations are never helpful in proving or disproving theories, though they’re certainly good at making people angry with one another. But is it any less ridiculous than the assumption that a bad credit score makes someone a sneaky, thieving, horrible person with no redeeming qualities? During a time when record unemployment makes having a stellar credit score difficult for more and more people, maybe the people doing the hiring can put the credit score judgments on hold and hire people on, say, their actual merits and ability to perform the task at hand?

“It was telling that poor credit scores were not correlated to theft and other deviant types of work behaviors,” says Bernerth. “Most companies attempt to justify the use of credit scores because they think such employees will end up stealing, but our research suggests that might not be the case.”

Details of this study will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Applied Psychology.