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How to Check Credit References

Many businesses ask for credit references, but then fail to actually check those references. A phone call is all it takes to ensure a solid partnership.

Ask for Appropriate References

When making a hiring decision, many employers ask applicants for employment references. These are usually past supervisors who know best how the applicant performs on the job.

Usually in a phone call, the potential employer will ask about the applicant’s work responsibilities, and in a broad sense, about how they performed at work. Few employers would make a hiring decision without checking at least one reference.

When requesting credit references, you should ask that the applicant provide references from parties who are familiar with their use of credit. Ideally, the list of references should include companies that have extended credit to the business that you are considering extending credit to.

Although most credit applications ask for references, many businesses rely solely on a credit report or a PAYDEX® score, rather than calling references. Checking references can add value to the business credit report.

Ask Appropriate Questions

When you call the references, ask open-ended questions as much as possible. Some specific questions will need to be answered, such as how long the company has had credit with the reference, and whether or not they pay on time.

Some companies may refuse to answer specific questions in order to protect the privacy of their client. In that case, there will not be much to gain from the call. Open-ended questions include whether or not the company would make the same credit decision again if they had the chance to, and why or why not. Asking about how well the applicant’s invoice paying processes work could be another way to start a conversation.

Almost all businesses have a process in place for employment reference checks. The Department of Defense has created a checklist for that, and their checklist could serve as a starting point for developing your own credit reference check process.


Michael Carr is a small business expert who has been involved in the successful development of three small businesses.