To a lot of people, a career as a police officer is thought to be prestigious and rewarding. Just like most careers in law enforcement, anyone who intends to become a police officer must undergo some extensive background checks of which a credit check is inclusive. Even though there is no clearly defined credit score that a prospective police officer is expected to have, a low credit score is not without its implications.

A lot of people who take the path of a police career find themselves being side swept during the application process thanks to their credit. In times of economic downturn, a lot of people find it difficult to pay their bills. It is either food, shelter, or the credit card bill for many folks.

Your credit can pave a way for you to get a job in a lot of government agencies that are related to law enforcement. These can range from local governments all the way to the federal level, like those of:

  • Special Agents: FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service and Diplomatic Security
  • Customs and Border Protection Officers and Border Patrol Agents
  • State Troopers and Highway Patrol
  • Detectives and Investigators
  • Deputy US Marshals
  • Sheriff’s Deputies
  • Police Officers

Irrespective of how you choose to view it, your credit can be used to judge you based on;

  1. Reliability: are you responsible and dependable? Can you be counted on?
  2. Trustworthiness: does your financial situation possibly make you susceptible to theft or taking bribes?
  3. Risk: how risky is it to hire you with bad credit? What’s the risk level to the police department and the general public?

Is it possible to get a job as a police officer with bad credit?

The truth still remains that some jurisdictions are strict on the credit issue when it comes to police applicants. Police agencies that deal in local and regional levels are much more likely to be less strict when compared to those at the federal level.

If you are a regular reader of detective novels, a viewer of cop movies and TV shows, then you would have come across the expression “dirty cop”. A dirty cop refers to a police officer who is corrupt or unethical. The police departments and LE agencies try their best to avoid the bad press and expensive law suits that comes from having a dirty cop associated with the police force. This is why they always carry out thorough background checks along with a credit report review in a bid to reduce the occurrence of dirty cops to the barest minimum.

Even if your credit is solid, they also check to see if you have a high debt to income ratio, because this can raise some red flags. But why do they do this? The simple answer is that they do not want their police officers to become prone to bribery, theft, evidence tampering, and misuse of departmental resources, amongst other things.

Yes, credit is an important factor in determining if you are going to be a safe bet, and it is also one of many important factors that form a final determination.

A bad credit should not discourage you from applying if the opportunity comes up. It even makes a lot more sense to apply if you are taking steps to correct and redeem your credit situation.

However, each applicant situation will be accessed based on their situation, so there is no one size fits all situation for everyone.

A bad credit doesn’t always have to be a nail in the coffin in the dreams of your police officer career.

Even though certain law enforcement agencies have, what you would call, “automatic disqualification” for bad credit. It seems this is becoming less prevalent due to the recent financial hit United States took as a whole. Many well-meaning people fell on hard times. Unable to pay their bills on time, many have blemished their credit and some ruined it entirely.

You should note that the type of debt you are in and how you handle it matters a lot. It’s not the credit score that is the end-all be-all — it’s what’s inside the credit report that counts. For instance, it will look very awful if you took out 8 credit cards and three loans, then you stopped paying for them after a few months.

More or less, you have to explain how you got to the financial situation you found yourself in and then outline to them plans you have of getting out of the situation.

Many individuals who apply for positions in law enforcement worry about potential complications with their backgrounds such as driving record or criminal history, but few consider the impact that their credit reports can have on them. However, it is important to think about FICO scores and credit histories prior to applying for a career as a police officer because the administrators in charge of reviewing the application are likely to be concerned with that aspect of the applicant’s life.

When reviewing your credit history, recruiters, police chiefs and sheriffs look for specific patterns, not a specific credit score. If your credit history has minimal late payments, and moderate credit usage, it can demonstrate a pattern of responsibility, a characteristic that is important for those tasked with upholding the law. A less-than-positive credit history, or one in which your spending exceeds your income, may signal a pattern of irresponsibility, and call into question your ability to avoid the type of ethical temptations that police officers routinely face on the job.

While debt such as a home mortgage or student loans are permissible, especially for relatively young applicants, a history of bankruptcy and debt collection is not attractive. Recruiters want to make sure that you are consistently honoring your debt obligations by paying your bills on time. Due to the nature of police work, many hiring agents often act on the belief that past behavior is the best indicator of a candidate’s future performance. The best candidates are going to be those who can demonstrate that they follow through on their financial commitments.

If someone fails to get a job because of his bad credit, is that a discrimination of some sort?

There are a lot of state and federal statutes that are in place to see to it that people are not discriminated for a plethora of reasons. Most employers of labor are quite familiar with these laws. However, some jobs require that the candidate must be in a state of being, often financial, where that person’s integrity would not be in question, where that person would not be considered a risk of integrity failure due to financial pressures. This is very important when the job in question is about protecting the lives and properties of the citizens of a country. Credit and background checking is typical and demanded for these types of jobs. In this case, you cannot hide your credit information from an institution like the police because they have full access to those types of data.

In conclusion, when a background check is carried out on a prospective officer, they will not be bothered with reasonable debt; they want to see that an applicant, even though he has debts, he or she is honoring them as at when due. Integrity and responsible behavior should be the virtues a cop ought to have. Being irresponsible with debt and credit score could also mean that the applicant will be irresponsible on the job. A bad credit can harm your chances but doesn’t necessarily mean the death of a prospective police officers dream. As much as your credit situation is important, how you got there is equally important. In addition, how much debt you have and what kind of debt it is can be taken into account. Put in your best efforts to improve your credit.

Ajaero Tony Martins