An African-American couple arguing over finances
An African-American couple arguing over finances. © mocker_bat - Fotolia.com

A recent Washington Post article examined how the meltdown in the mortgage market has led to a sharp decline in credit scores for blacks. The Post article emphasized how poor credit makes it much tougher to secure loans and gain access to credit, especially for African-Americans. The significant loss of black wealth through foreclosures following the disproportionate number of costly sub-prime mortgages granted to blacks might place many African-Americans in a permanent bad credit underclass.

“At issue are the largely invisible but profoundly influential three-digit credit scores that help determine who can buy a car, finance a college education or own a home,” the Post said. But talking about credit scores exclusively in the context of credit and loans is incomplete and misses the mark. In reality, the financial fallout from having bad credit touches a person’s life in many more ways – not the least of which relate to jobs, housing and insurance. Critical areas of social functioning impacted include:

  • Being able to rent an apartment in a decent neighborhood
  • Being able to purchase inexpensive homeowner’s or renter’s insurance
  • Being able to qualify for reasonably-priced car insurance
  • Being able to get a job if you’re unemployed
  • Being able to secure a promotion if you’re already working

Believe it or not, all of these things may be out of reach – or certainly far more difficult and costly – if you have a poor credit rating. And herein lies the problem for many blacks, and others, too. Now that so many African-Americans have lost their wealth through losing their homes, many more may also face the fallout that the resultant poor credit scores will bring. And that aftermath may unfold indefinitely.

The problem is that Americans, by and large, tend to only pay attention to their credit ratings when it’s time to apply for a loan or credit. In fact, a survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling revealed that seven out of 10 Americans don’t check their credit reports each year. Ditto for people checking their credit scores.

Sure, we may pull our credit reports when it’s time to buy a home or refinance a mortgage. Or we may check our credit scores before seeking another credit card or filling out a student loan application. But what about the times when there’s no banker scrutinizing your financial history?

“If you walked up to 100 people and asked: ‘Do you know your credit score?’ I’ll bet less than a quarter of them do,” says Bill Hardekopf, chief executive of LowCards.com. “Unfortunately, the credit score doesn’t get the attention it really deserves even though it has so many far-reaching ramifications.”

Does bad credit = no job?

To be ignorant of your credit score and the information contained in your credit report is a shame these days, especially when you can readily obtain both online.  You can even get your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — free of charge each year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you want to get ahead in your career, it’s also vitally important to review your credit. The link between credit and jobs can’t be overstated, particularly in the current tough job market. With unemployment rates for African-Americans in the double digits, black job-hunters need to do everything they can to make themselves more attractive to potential employers. You don’t want a spotty credit report to take you out of the running for a new job – or a promotion at an existing job. Yet, that’s exactly what happens every day.

Employers don’t usually say it outright, but they frown upon bad credit – and have even been known to rescind job offers after checking a person’s credit and finding it lacking.

The Society for Human Resources Management reports that nearly 60 percent of employers in the U.S. now use credit checks as part of their screening process for either some or all job applicants. That’s just one reason why some blacks – and others with shaky credit records – are having trouble landing work.

But even if you’re not currently looking for a job or you’re not presently in the running for a promotion, you should still keep close tabs on your credit. To do otherwise is financially foolish and likely costing you gobs of money.