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Occupational Outlook: Credit Authorizers, Checkers, and Clerks

Significant Points

  • Most jobs require only a high school diploma.
  • Employment is expected to decline.

Nature of the Work

Credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks review credit history and obtain the information needed to determine the creditworthiness of individuals or businesses applying for credit. They spend much of their day on the telephone or on the Internet obtaining information from credit bureaus, employers, banks, credit institutions, and other sources to determine applicants’ credit history and ability to repay what they borrow or charge.

Credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks process and authorize applications for credit, including applications for credit cards. Although the distinctions among the three job titles are disappearing, some general differences remain. Credit clerks typically handle the processing of credit applications by verifying the information on the application, calling applicants if additional data are needed, contacting credit bureaus for a credit rating, and obtaining any other information necessary to determine applicants’ creditworthiness. If clerks work in a department store or other establishment that offers instant credit, they enter the applicant’s information into a computer at the point of sale. A credit rating is then transmitted from a central office within seconds to indicate whether the application should be rejected or approved.

Credit checkers investigate the credit history and current credit standing of a person or business prior to the issuance of a loan or line of credit. Credit checkers also may contact credit departments of businesses and service companies to obtain information about an applicant’s credit standing. Credit reporting agencies and bureaus hire checkers to secure, update, and verify information for credit reports. These workers often are called credit investigators or credit reporters.

Credit authorizers approve charges against customers’ existing accounts. Most charges are approved automatically by computer. However, when accounts are past due, overextended, or invalid, or when they show a change of address, salespersons refer the associated transactions to credit authorizers located in a central office. These authorizers evaluate the customers’ computerized credit records and payment histories and quickly decide whether to approve new charges.

Working Conditions

Credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks usually work a standard 40-hour week. However, they may work overtime during particularly busy periods, such as holiday shopping seasons and store sales. Most credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks work in areas that are clean, well lit, and relatively quiet. These workers sit for long periods of time in front of computer screens, which may cause eyestrain and headaches. Part-time work is available, and temporary workers are often hired during peak workloads.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

A high school diploma or its equivalent is usually the minimum requirement for these workers. Other requirements of the job include good telephone and organizational skills and the ability to pay close attention to details and meet tight deadlines. Computer skills also are important in order to enter and retrieve data quickly.

Most new employees are trained on the job, working under close supervision of more experienced employees. Some firms offer formal training that may include courses in telephone etiquette, computer use, and customer service skills. Some credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks also take courses in credit offered by banking and credit associations, public and private vocational schools, and colleges and universities. These workers typically can advance to loan or credit department supervisor or team leader of a small group of clerks.

Employment

Credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks held about 67,000 jobs in 2004. Nearly half of these workers were employed by finance and insurance industries, mainly firms in credit intermediation and related activities, such as commercial and savings banks; credit unions; and mortgage, finance, and loan companies. Credit bureaus, collection agencies, and wholesale and retail trade establishments also employ these clerks.

Job Outlook

Employment of credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks is expected to decline through 2014. Despite a projected increase in the number of credit applications, technology will allow these applications to be processed, checked, and authorized by fewer workers than were required in the past.

Credit scoring is a major development that has improved the productivity of credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks, thus limiting employment growth in the occupation. Companies and credit bureaus now can purchase software that quickly analyzes an applicant’s creditworthiness and summarizes it with a “score.” Credit issuers then can easily decide whether to accept or reject an application on the basis of its score, speeding up the authorization of loans or credit. Obtaining credit ratings also has become much easier for credit checkers and authorizers because businesses now have computer systems directly linked to credit bureaus that provide immediate access to a person’s credit history.

The job outlook for credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks is sensitive to overall economic activity. A downturn in the economy or a rise in interest rates usually leads to a decline in demand for credit. Even in slow economic times, however, job openings will arise from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation for various reasons.

Earnings

Median hourly earnings of credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks in May 2004 were $13.97. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.27 and $17.56. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.19, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.90. Median hourly earnings in nondepository credit intermediation were $13.74 in 2004, while median earnings in depository credit intermediation were $13.62.

Related Occupations

Credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks obtain and analyze credit histories. Other workers who review account information include bill and account collectors, loan officers, and insurance underwriters.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Once collectors find the debtor, they inform him or her of the overdue account and solicit payment. If necessary, they review the terms of the sale, service, or credit contract with the customer. Collectors also may attempt to learn the cause of the delay in payment. Where feasible, they offer the customer advice on how to pay off the debts, such as by taking out a bill consolidation loan. However, the collector’s prime objective is always to ensure that the customer pays the debt in question.

If a customer agrees to pay, collectors record this commitment and check later to verify that the payment was indeed made. Collectors may have authority to grant an extension of time if customers ask for one. If a customer fails to respond, collectors prepare a statement indicating the customer’s action for the credit department of the establishment. In more extreme cases, collectors may initiate repossession proceedings, disconnect the customer’s service, or hand the account over to an attorney for legal action. Most collectors handle other administrative functions for the accounts assigned to them, including recording changes of addresses and purging the records of the deceased.

Collectors use computers and a variety of automated systems to keep track of overdue accounts. Typically, collectors work at video display terminals that are linked to computers. In sophisticated predictive dialer systems, a computer dials the telephone automatically, and the collector speaks only when a connection has been made. Such systems eliminate time spent calling busy or nonanswering numbers. Many collectors use regular telephones, but others wear headsets like those used by telephone operators.

Working Conditions

In-house bill and account collectors typically are employed in an office environment, while those who work for third-party collection agencies may work in a call-center environment. Workers spend most of their time on the phone tracking down and contacting people with debts. The work can be stressful as some customers can be confrontational when pressed about their debts, although some appreciate assistance in resolving their outstanding debt. Collectors may also feel pressured to meet targets for the amount of debt they are expected recover in a certain period.

Bill and account collectors often have to work evenings and weekends, when it usually is easier to reach people. As a result, it is not uncommon for workers to work part time or on flexible work schedules, though the majority work 40 hours per week.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most bill and account collectors are required to have at least a high school diploma. However, employers prefer workers who have completed some college or who have experience in other occupations that involve contact with the public. Workers should have good communication skills and be computer literate; experience with advanced telecommunications equipment is also useful.

Once hired, workers usually receive on-the-job training. Under the guidance of a supervisor or some other senior worker, new employees learn company procedures. Some formal classroom training also may be necessary, such as training in specific computer software. Additional training topics usually include telephone techniques and negotiation skills. Workers are also instructed in the laws governing the collection of debt as mandated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which applies to all third party and some in-house collectors.

Workers usually advance by taking on more duties in the same occupation for higher pay or by transferring to a closely related occupation. Many companies fill supervisory positions by promoting individuals from within the organization, and workers who acquire additional skills, experience, and training improve their advancement opportunities.

Employment

Bill and account collectors held about 456,000 jobs in 2004. About 1 in 5 collectors works for a collection agency. Many others work in banks, retail stores, government, physician’s offices, hospitals, and other institutions that lend money and extend credit.

Job Outlook

Employment of bill and account collectors is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. Cash flow is becoming increasingly important to companies, which are now placing greater emphasis on collecting unpaid debts sooner. Thus, the workload for collectors is expected to continue to increase as they seek to collect not only debts that are relatively old, but ones that are more recent. Also, as more companies in a wide range of industries get involved in lending money and issuing their own credit cards, they will need to hire collectors, because debt levels will likely continue to rise. In addition to job openings from employment growth, a significant number of openings will result from the high level of turnover in the occupation. As a result, job opportunities should be favorable.

Hospitals and physicians’ offices are two of the fastest growing industries requiring collectors. With insurance reimbursements not keeping up with cost increases, the health care industry is seeking to recover more money from patients. Government agencies also are making more use of collectors to collect on everything from parking tickets to child-support payments and past-due taxes. Finally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is looking into outsourcing the collection of overdue Federal taxes to third-party collection agencies. If the IRS does outsource, more collectors will be required for this large job.

Despite the increasing demand for bill collectors, employment growth may be limited due to an increased use of third party debt collectors, who are generally more efficient than in-house collectors. Also, some firms are beginning to use offshore collection agencies, whose lower cost structures allow them to collect debts that are too small for domestic collection agencies. Contrary to the pattern in most occupations, employment of bill and account collectors tends to rise during recessions, reflecting the difficulty that many people have in meeting their financial obligations. However, collectors usually have more success at getting people to repay their debts when the economy is good.

Earnings

Median hourly earnings of bill and account collectors were $13.20 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.87 and $16.28. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.22, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $20.10. In addition to a basic rate of pay, many bill and account collectors earn commissions based on the amount of debt they recover.

Related Occupations

Bill and account collectors review and collect information on accounts. Other occupations with similar responsibilities include credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks; loan officers; and interviewers.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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