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The Credit History Issue

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  • The Credit History Issue

    A number of potential fire service recruits both in my department and nationwide have expressed frustration that they have made it through the written, have done well on the physical, they have impressed everyone during the interviews and oral boards, yet their road to their dream job is stopped when they reach either the background check or the psychological screening.

    There are a number of reasons for these “failures,” and we will discuss more of them in the future, but one that I want to point out today is a part of your overall candidate package that is easily overlooked: your credit history.

    Credit has become a way of life in the US. It seems that everyone has several national credit cards, car payments, maybe a few store credit cards, student loans, multiple mortgages. We have become a generation drowning in debt.

    Compounding the problem is the predatory behavior of many credit card companies. These companies have set up the system so that consumers have few rights, and the companies hold all of the power.

    At any rate, many young people get caught in the trap of maxing credit cards, falling behind on payments, “floating” account balances between multiple cards, and generally digging themselves into a financial hole.

    For the potential fire recruit, this whole scenario can cause a bigger problem: your psychological and/or background check when you are hired by a fire department will likely include a check of your credit history. Shaky credit ratings are likely to be seen as evidence of an inability to handle responsibility and a red flag for potential to misuse a position of trust. The reasoning goes that if you are broke and creditors are calling you constantly, you are more likely to do something stupid like take money from a patient’s wallet.

    Here is some advice to consider:
    -Always pay off your credit card balances each month! This has become almost un-American, but it truly is the best financial behavior.
    -Never “float” balances from a card to a new card because of a low or zero APR offer. Each credit card you have is a ding against your credit rating! Each credit card you cancel is another ding against you. The best thing to do is to shred every offer for a credit card that arrives in the mail.
    -Be VERY careful of due dates. Credit card companies have set the system up so that they can charge large late fees as often as possible. Grace periods for payments are shorter, mailing schedules are later, fees are bigger.
    -Use online payment options, if available. These systems are faster and more reliable than mail. You are less likely to get dings on your credit rating due to lost or late mail.
    -If you are in trouble, let your creditors know! If you are making an effort, they may be more likely to work with you and avoid forwarding your case to a collection agency, which can rapidly destroy your credit rating.
    -Avoid Payday loans and check cashing services like the plague! These companies provide legal usury. They can quickly destroy your financial health.
    -Request a copy of your credit report from the major reporting agencies. You will want to see what the fire department that is about to hire you is going to discover first. It will also allow you to address any obvious mistakes that may hurt your credit standing.
    -Make ALL of your payments on time! Telephone, electric, gas, cable, all of them can ding you credit and may cause a “universal default,” which will cause your credit cards to revert to the highest percentage rate on outstanding balances.
    -If you are in trouble financially, seek the help of a nonprofit, reputable credit counseling service. They can help you out of your bind and teach good money management skills.

    Just something to think about.

    Good luck,
    Dave Arthur, FF/EMT
    Owner, Firestorm Digital Media
    Serious about launching your fire service career? Go to www.firedepartmentcareer.com

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