Some potential employers want to check your credit during the job application process. The truth about when and why employers look at credit reports.

There is more than one reason to be conscientious about your credit history. Prospective employers can — and often will — check your credit report during a job application.

When an employer runs a background check, it’s both an effort to cover the company’s backside and stalk you a little bit before they hire you. It’s no different than when you Google a prospective date to ensure he/she is not an escaped murderer.

Even though it’s understandable a company would verify job applicants’ criminal histories, does an employer have any business running credit checks on potential employees? And could a charged off account or a few years of lackadaisical bill payments after college prevent you from landing your dream job?

Here’s what you need to know about credit checks during job applications and what to expect if a prospective employer wants to check your credit report.

Facts about employer credit checks

1. Most jobs won’t require credit checks, but certain jobs always will.

If you’re a professional truck driver, you can assume an employer will check your driving record before offering you a job. If you’re applying for positions in banking, accounting, or law enforcement, you can assume the same thing about checking your credit report.

But if you’ve had credit problems and are applying for any other kind of job, there’s good news: Your employer probably won’t check you credit report. Credit checks cost money, and most jobs simply don’t carry the level of responsibilities to make your credit history relevant.

2. Employers will ask for your permission to check your credit.

In order to check your credit, your employer must have your explicit written permission. Most likely, they will ask for your permission on a form that is part of the job application.

If you fervently object to an employer checking your credit, you may refuse your consent, but you probably won’t get the job. If you do consent, take 10 minutes to review your own credit report so you make sure you’re as familiar with what’s on there as they will be.

3. Employers will check your credit report, not your credit score

Employers could care less about your credit score—the three digit number banks use to tell how creditworthy you are for a new loan.

Employers are simply looking at your credit report, the document that details how many credit accounts you have, how much you owe and how diligently you’ve paid those accounts on time. Factors that might lower your credit score, such as recent loan applications or late payments, are probably of little interest to a potential employer. Instead, the employer will focus on patterns — like too much debt or multiple charge offs—that indicate irresponsible behavior.

How to explain your credit report to an employer

For most people, an employer checking your credit report shouldn’t be worrisome. Few people have flawless credit, but few people have the kind of major credit problems that would prevent them from getting a job.

If you’re still nervous about an employer checking your credit, consider the following:

1. Rehearse your explanations

Expect wary bosses-to-be to question the questionable stuff, and have your answers ready. As you hone your responses in interview rehearsals, up your confidence and get rid of any defensiveness.

Spin past mistakes into lessons you’ve learned about overcoming adversity. Most importantly, have explanations ready for any consistent periods of late payments. Regardless of the job to which you’re applying, employers value attention to detail; forgetting to pay the bills month after month does not exactly indicate pain-staking

2. Throw the flag

Contact credit bureaus to attach explanations of extenuating circumstances that were behind any black marks on your reports. If nothing else, the flagged entries may coax employers to second-guess any hang-ups the entries spark in their minds, and show them that you are proactive and conscientious.

3. Ask tough questions yourself

If your prospective boss seems nervous about particular aspects of your past, don’t be afraid to ask what’s on his mind. Not only will a tough, potentially deflating answer give you a more clear picture about your prospects, it will allow you to plead your case and change his mind. Even in the worst-case scenario, in which your credit report derails your job track, at least you’ll know why, and will be able to use that information if and when it comes up again.

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Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.