Criminal record guide: The financial benefits of wiping the slate clean

Originally posted on Bankrate

It should come as no surprise that a criminal conviction can severely hurt your finances. Background checks don’t just list convictions, either. Even if you weren’t convicted, an arrest can still show up on a potential employer’s or landlord’s background check.

If any of the above applies to you, you’re not alone; more than 70 million Americans have some kind of criminal record. However, barring serious offenses, mistakes you made in the past don’t have to last your whole life. There are some steps that past offenders can take to wipe the slate clean.

The cost of carrying a criminal record

Ex-offenders may face a variety of official sanctions or restrictions known as collateral consequences. A variety of professionals may run background checks, including but not limited to:

  • Employers.

  • Landlords/leasing agents.

  • Lenders.

  • Attorneys.

The internet also provides many commercial background check websites available to the public. Anyone curious can stumble upon an ex-offender’s criminal history. That knowledge can add unnecessary strain to a relationship.

One of the biggest hurdles for ex-offenders is finding a decent job. Those who have served prison time face a far more difficult situation than those who have served community service or paid fines.

But criminal records can also act as a barrier to higher education, one path toward higher-paying jobs. According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, most schools ask applicants to disclose criminal history:

  • 81 percent of private schools.

  • 55 percent of public schools.

  • 40 percent of community colleges.

Criminal histories can also hurt an ex-offender’s chance of receiving federal student aid. So it’s more unlikely and more expensive for ex-offenders to enter higher education.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There’s increasing support for “ban the box” initiatives nationwide. These initiatives want to make it easier for prisoners to apply for schools and jobs without disclosing their criminal history. Their aim is to remove the check box from applications asking if applicants have a criminal record.

Each state also offers “clean slate” programs to ex-offenders. Participation in these programs makes it possible to clear your criminal record. It’s a process that can include expungement, closure or destruction of records.

Wiping the slate clean: What to do and how to do it

If you’ve committed a misdemeanor or a nonviolent felony, you may be able to ask for clemency. There are steps you can take to earn a pardon or expunge past offenses from your history. But it depends on the level of the criminal offense.

What are the three basic levels of criminal offenses?

Step 1: Determine if you’re qualified

Qualifications for clemency vary by state and criminal offense. But responsible parties will also consider whether the offender was an adult or juvenile when the crime was committed.

Juveniles face far more relaxed qualification standards than adults. States that offer no expungement protocol for adults will offer some for juveniles. It’s another form of clemency — so the mistakes of youth don’t follow offenders into adulthood.

Clemency requirements are more rigid for adults, and it’s more likely that a misdemeanor will be forgiven than a felony. Other states allow expungement only if there was no conviction. Also, note that some states offer sealing instead of expungement. Sealing doesn’t erase the record entirely, but rather it hides the record from public view. Certain agencies and employers will still be able to see sealed records. For an in-depth exploration of expungement laws by state, visit the Restoration of Rights Project.

It’s very rare that a serious or violent felony is eligible for expungement. No matter your state of residence, the following crimes are not eligible for expungement:

  • Murder.

  • Felonies or first-degree misdemeanors with victims under 18 years of age.