Credit Scores: Do Nice Guys Finish Last?

A new study takes advantage of the increasing (and somewhat controversial) use of credit scores as a tool for evaluating job candidates to examine whether scores are affected by how nice you are. Jeremy Bernerth, Daniel Whitman, Shannon Taylor and H. Jack Walker found that while there is a positive relationship between “conscientiousness and FICO scores, there is a negative relationship between agreeableness and FICO scores”:

The finding that credit scores accounted for a substantial proportion of variance in externally rated performance variables gives some credence to the practice of using credit scores as a screening tool. However, null findings between credit scores and workplace deviance call into question claims that employees with poor credit will engage in behaviors intended to harm the organization (Gallagher, 2006; Oppler et al., 2008).

Bernerth elaborates in a press release:

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.

It was telling that poor credit scores were not correlated to theft and other deviant types of work behaviors. 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.


Is this any surprise? It's nice to have research supporting the proposition, but credit scores are something so esoteric and arcane that you are only likely to find a correlation of credit scores to how well they understand both the impacts of credit scores and how they are calculated.

Alternatively, credit scores are more likely just a measure of an individuals financial responsibility combined with their financial literacy. Both of which are common traits of individuals running criminal enterprises: If you want to skirt the rules, you best know how to bend them or not get caught when you break them.

Cor Aquilonis

I wonder if agreeableness was measured from the boss's perspective? Maybe it was a gambit to protect their jobs by becoming yes-persons, so they could pay their late bills? I am full of wild speculation!


You hit on one of my favorite topics along with flawed data. Did you know there are 31k living folks in the Social Security Death Index? Talk about identity theft, well now we have identity death. In California, new law went into effect January 1 that employers "cannot" use a credit score as a determining factor on hiring someone, should be a national law.

Look at the nonsense of mismatched data from FICO on this bunch of algorithms they are marketing to pharma and insurance companies, all there to make a buck with mismatched data analytics and using risk assessment beyond belief with medication adherence. The Daily Kos even ended up with my reporting on that topic with my explanation of flawed and mismatched data. About 2 years ago I said data abuse and addiction would be the next up and coming 12 step program in jest and maybe we are getting close:)

Some states have even had to install software to block the data mining bots as their servers were slowing down to a crawl too. I'll say this again, license and tax the data miners and give some money back to the middle class here as why should corporations make billions selling data on "free taxpayer data", not fair and need to give some money back.

We don't have enough "trained" individual out there who know how to deal with "flawed" data either and my mathematician professor buddy at NYU agrees with me on that.

Part 6 of my "Attack of the Killer Algorithms" series talks about this. I wrote 7 parts and hope I don't have to do part 8 but not holding my breath. Someone needs to make this movie as we all become data chasers to fix what corporate America doesn't get right with their extensive data systems.

I just received my Verizon bill which now says they may share information on my bill payments around the web, like I said license and tax those folks. Walgreens said their data selling business is worth just under $800 million so filling prescriptions may be a side line business to capture the data for sale, you think:)


Andreas Moser

No wonder I don't get a job if companies look at credit scores.


But by that logic, I should have companies crawling out of the woodwork wanting to hire me because of my good credit score.

And I'm one of the nicest guys I know, too :-)

Mike B

I wonder how good a proxy for "minority" or "poor" credit scores are as an updated way for employers to reject candidates that don't match the complexion of their workplace. Was talking to a friend in retail and he said that at the low, unskilled, end of the job spectrum they don't give a hoot about credit scores. There are people working for him with such poor credit they can't even get a bank account, but he doesn't care as long as they aren't working in positions that deal with handling customer payments.


I wonder if Bernie Madoff and all of the other white collar criminals have good or bad credit scores. Perhaps we should have wall street executives post their credit scores LOL

Gary L.

I always figured companies used credit scores because they're lazy. Sarbanes-Oxley requires companies to put internal controls in place to identify fraud risks. They try to address the three sides of the "fraud triangle," Opportunity, Rationalization, and Pressure.

The company puts procedures in place to limit Opportunity (requiring a supervisor signature for writing checks, or making wire transfers, segregating certain duties, etc.). To determine if one has "Pressure" they run a credit check (the thinking being, if someone is overwhelmed with debt, they're more likely to steal). The problem with that, is that HR looks and sees a bankruptcy, and assumes the person is unfit for the position. That's no necessarily so. If a person has a previous bankruptcy, but has changed their ways and now lives within their means, they might have very little "Pressure" to commit fraud. A person with a good credit score, but a huge mortgage, student loan debt, and credit cards they can only manage minimum payments on, is really a much higher risk, though they likely have a better credit score.

Though, for what its worth, an employer can (with your permission) get a copy of your credit report, though they cannot get your actual credit score.


Mike Hunter

I agree. I've never had any debt, ever. But I have a terrible credit score. Why? Because I have no history of debt repayment. So who's more of a security risk? Someone who has a good credit score, and a mountain of debt? Or someone like me who has no debt, and money in the bank in case I have a financial emergancy? The question answers its self.

Joe J

Hmmm, I wonder what they mean by agreeableness? Yes-men?

Some companies use credit scores in hiring, because of fear of lawsuits. In our letigious society, companise do get sued for hiring candidate A and not B. Credit reports are an independent, source of information, aleviating them of some of the lawsuit risk. As to whether credit rating and work behavior is correlated or not apparently is what these people were examining.


Funny thing about my credit score. I was fortnate enough to be able to pay off my 10 year mortgage in 5 years. I had no other debt other than an AMEX card, which is paid in full monthly. When I checked my credit score about 3 months later, it had fallen from 815 to 735. When I inquired as to why, I was told it was because I didn't have any mortgage or real estate loans debt!

Ken Rugg

My hypothesis on why there is a negative correlation between agreeableness and credit score would be that more agreeable folks are less likely to contest a poor (or slightly less than perfect,) credit score while argumentative folks are happy to complain and get it upgraded.

In my experience, there are usually a few blemishes on a credit report that are either bogus or at least questionable that can be cleared just by arguing with the reporting agency. Someone who is "more agreeable" or conflict averse will likely be less inclined to argue to have the item removed. This is especially true if the issue isn't so bad that it materially impacts their access to the credit.


The strange thing about credit scores is that a resposible person who paid everthing in cash / immediatly without the use of credits will not have any credit score at all. This kind of person will get a poor rating - this does not seem very sensible to me. To be honest it makes me nervous to see so many things relying on credit scors nowadays.