Credit reports and credit scores permeate more facets of life than you might think. Landlords, for one, typically check credit when trying to decide who to lease their apartments to. So, yes, if you have a big, juicy error on one of your credit reports, it could cost you a truly awesome -- and affordable -- apartment.
Fortunately, you can get this error addressed before you start searching for some new digs. Unfortunately, it may take a bit more legwork than you think.
While some landlords do pull a standard version of your credit report, many also check your past payment history with a speciality rental reporting bureau, Joel Winston, a New York -- based privacy attorney who runs the website SpecialtyCreditReport.com and has written about this issue before for Credit.com, said.
"There's the credit credit report and there's also the specialty credit report," he said. "Landlords will usually look at one of them or both of them."
What's a specialty credit report?
Specialty reports typically list property rental addresses for the previous seven years, rental payment performance history (i.e., on time, late, delinquent), average length of past rentals, pet ownership, cleanliness of living conditions, reason for renting (e.g., foreclosure or never owned a home), civil court records, criminal background check, financial credit reports, past evictions, tenant history scores, and lease risk scores.
And, yes, Winston said, these reports can easily have errors on them, given most consumers don't know about them and aren't checking them regularly.
Or, "the information they have may be accurate, but they might not be complete," he said.
So, if you find yourself consistently losing out on apartments, it may be time to do some deeper digging.
So what do I do?
It's not a bad idea to pull all three versions of your credit report from the three major credit-reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- ahead of your apartment search. You don't want errors on these anyway, and, as mentioned, there is a chance a landlord will look at one of these reports to assess your ability to pay rent as agreed. (You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.)
If you do spot an inaccuracy, make sure to dispute it with the credit bureau in question. You can send a dispute letter by mail or file one online.
You might also want to see if you can track down one of your specialty renters' reports. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free copy from each bureau once a year. Here's a list of the major players.
- Contemporary Information Corporation800-288-4757 (option 5)
- CoreLogic SafeRent888-333-2413
- Experian RentBureau877-704-4519
- First Advantage Corporation Resident History Report888-215-3727
- LeasingDesk by Real Page866-934-1124
- Screening Reports866-389-4042
- Tenant Data Services800-228-1837 (option 6)
- TransUnion Rental Screening Solutions888-387-1750
Again, if you spot an error, be sure to dispute it with the agency. Information on how to do so should be available on your report or the company's website.
Remember, too, if you are denied an apartment due to bad credit, a landlord is required to give you a copy of the report they used in their decision-making process, so, at the very least, you should be able to spot an error from there. You could also potentially ask the landlord ahead of time what bureau he is getting the credit report from. That may not give you enough time to address any issues to score that particular place to live, but it could help you prevent problems in the future.
And, if you learn your credit is in rough shape due to legitimate negative information, there are steps you can take to fix your credit. You can build solid credit, specialty or otherwise, in the long term by paying all bills on time (including your rent!), keeping debt levels low, and limiting new credit inquiries while your score rebounds.