To get a house with a decent mortgage rate, you need a good to excellent credit score. But your biggest, most important payment — your rent — doesn’t even count. That’s an even bigger problem if your credit score doesn’t show any other key forms of credit, like a credit card or car payment.
It seems like the odds are stacked against you, as though renting an apartment or house, which costs a pretty penny by the way, isn’t a legitimate living situation. Fortunately, there are now ways around that.
In fact, as long as you can get the property owner on board, and sometimes even if you can’t, it’s really easy to ensure your rent payments count toward your credit score.
Why You Should Add Rent Payments to Your Credit Report
There are many factors that go into your credit score, and your payment history accounts for 35%.
But that’s a dilemma if you haven’t yet built or have to rebuild your credit score. How can you prove your creditworthiness if you don’t have something to repay?
Enter rent-payment reporting.
Rent is a massive monthly expense. Unfortunately, credit bureaus like Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax haven’t traditionally accounted for your housing costs unless it was a mortgage, creating a stubborn catch-22 for some would-be homeowners.
You need a higher credit score to afford a home — or even just a credit card with better rates and perks. But you can’t raise your credit score if no one knows about the payments you’re making. It’s so ridiculous it would be funny if it weren’t so depressing.
But thanks to rent reporting, people with a low or no credit score can use their on-time rent payments to bolster their score, improving their odds of obtaining credit.
How to Add Rent Payments to Your Credit Report
You have options when it comes to adding rent payments to your credit report: You can sign up for a service yourself, though the rental property owner may already work with a rent-reporting company. Though the specific steps vary from company to company, the process always follows a predictable pattern.
1. Determine Whether Your Property Reports Rent Payments — & to Whom
Some property owners already allow renters to opt into rent-reporting programs. Typically, the service is free to the renter. However, they may require you to have rent automatically deducted from your bank account each month.
There are even government-sponsored programs to help disadvantaged renters build their credit scores. These are renters the government considers “credit invisible,” which basically just means they have an insufficient credit history. If you’re one of them, you should take the government up on that. Falling into this category makes borrowing more expensive and can throw up barriers to housing and employment, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
And if neither of those is an option, there may be free or low-cost rent-reporting services you can sign up for on your own. Those require varying levels of input from the property owner, though, so ensure they’re willing to participate to the degree required before handing over any dough.
Note that not all rent-reporting companies report payments to the same credit bureaus. For instance, some only report to TransUnion, others report to TransUnion and Experian, and still others report rent payments to all three credit-reporting bureaus. Be sure to understand which bureaus your service reports to.
2. Enroll in a Rent-Reporting Service
If the property already has a rent-reporting service, just ask the people in the office how to sign up or opt in. It may be as simple as filling out a form giving them permission to do it. If not, it’s unlikely to take any longer than the DIY method.
If your property is a no-go on rent reporting, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’d be willing to sign up. Just in case, show up equipped with information on how it could benefit the property owner (like this article on Forbes).
And if they say no, you can sign up for one yourself. That means you have to pay the fees, which are usually less than $100 per year, though they can go higher for more benefits, such as reporting to all the bureaus or expanding the length of time they report for. There may also be a setup fee, though that’s usually less than $100 (often as low as $25 or less).
The one potential hiccup is that the rent-reporting company may ask the property owner to participate by verifying your rent payments. And that means they may have to at least be willing to provide some support. But some services can do it through your bank account without going through the property.
To enroll in a rent-reporting service, you must provide a copy of your lease along with some personal information, such as your name, birthdate, and address. The process is easy, and you can complete it online in a matter of minutes.
3. Ensure Accurate Rent Payment Reporting
If you’re making the effort to report your rent payments to build credit, it’s crucial to verify the accuracy of your credit report. There are a couple of methods to monitor your credit score effectively.
One option is to visit AnnualCreditReport.com, where consumers can obtain a free credit report from each credit bureau once per year. A few months after rent reporting starts, check the relevant bureau’s credit report. If you rent reports to more than one bureau, check them a few months apart so you can keep tabs.
Hint: In light of numerous scams associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the website now allows individuals to access their credit reports weekly until December 2023.
Another approach is to create an account with the three major credit bureaus. Most allow at least some access for free. Paid accounts have more features, but they can cost $10 to $30 per month and only give you access to one bureau’s reports.
Fortunately, there are other options. Many credit cards, banks, and free credit monitoring apps like Credit Karma also offer similar services, allowing you to stay informed about any updates or modifications to your credit information. Some may even give you access to more than one bureau’s info.
How Much Do Rent-Reporting Services Cost?
The cost for rent-reporting services really runs the gamut. Supposedly, you get what you pay for. But it really depends on what you need, so you can’t just opt for the most expensive one and call it a day. Nor can you opt for the cheapest and expect to get the results you’re looking for.
There are three charges to be on the lookout for.
Many rent-reporting companies charge a setup fee. The more they offer (again, supposedly), the more it costs. For example, Rent Reporters charges almost $100 as a one-time setup fee. And you get a personal credit specialist to help you improve your score. Boom’s setup fee is only $10, but all it does is report rent payments.
Then there’s the monthly subscription fee. You can get Boom for as little as $2 per month. But Rent Reporters and LevelCredit charge a minimum of around $7. But unlike Boom, Rent Reporters provides 24 months of rent history for free, and LevelCredit also reports your cellphone and utilities.
Lots of these companies offer additional paid services. You can get past rent history, often as far back as two years (24 months), discounts for roommates or domestic partners to add it to their credit reports, and even credit monitoring. Past credit history is often around $50, though you can get it for less, but not every service offers it. And the other services depend on what they offer and how much they already cost.
Have I mentioned that they supposedly charge based on their level of service? The reality is that may or may not be true for you. It’s not that the statement is untrue on its face. It’s that it really does depend on what would benefit you the most.
For example, Boom is dirt-cheap compared to its peers, but it also reports to all three bureaus. Rent Reporters and LevelCredit only report to TransUnion and Equifax. So despite having more features, if what’s most important to you is credit bureau coverage, Boom wins out.
And it doesn’t stop there. Experian Boost also gives you credit for paying your utilities. Boom and Rental Kharma include your previous rental history at no additional charge. Some, like Rock the Score and PaymentReport, give you options if the property owner won’t participate. And Piñata has a rewards program.
All these options mean you can get exactly what you want for a price you can afford.
How to Choose a Rent-Reporting Service
When choosing a rent-reporting service, it’s tempting to sign up for the first one with the right price. But there are several factors to consider. Follow these steps to find the best rent-reporting service for you.
- Check with the property owner. Check to see if your property already uses a rent-reporting service. If so, sign up through them. That means you could skip the rest of the steps. But if their service doesn’t report to all bureaus, you can still sign up with another one to compliment the one they offer.
- Research available services. Look for rent-reporting services online and compare their features, costs, and reputation. Pay attention to factors like the duration of reporting, customer support, and ease of use.
- Check credit bureau partnerships. Ideally, the service should report to major credit bureaus like Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Reporting to multiple bureaus increases the likelihood of your rental payments being included in your credit history with the specific bureau a particular creditor uses.
- Evaluate the reporting method. Some services require a direct connection with property management, while others rely on alternative data sources like bank statements. Choose a method that suits your preferences and provides accurate reporting.
- Number of months reported. Some rent-reporting companies can report as far back as 24 months, while others report starting with your first payment while you’re signed up moving forward. The former is expensive, but it could help you qualify for credit or a loan faster. If you don’t need that, sticking with the latter is usually cheaper.
- Assess the cost. Some services charge a monthly fee, while others have an annual fee or one-time payment. Consider your budget and choose a service that provides good value for the features offered.
- Read customer reviews and ratings. Read reviews on trustworthy platforms like Trustpilot or the Better Business Bureau to get an idea of the experiences and satisfaction levels of other users. That can give you insights into the reliability and performance of the service.
- Consider additional features. Some rent-reporting services offer additional features that can enhance your financial well-being. For example, they can provide credit-monitoring services, educational resources, or tools to track your credit score progress.
- Check for customer support. Consider the availability and quality of customer support provided by the rent-reporting service. Determine whether they offer multiple channels of communication, such as phone, email, or live chat, and whether they have a reputation for responsiveness and helpfulness.
It can help to make a chart or spreadsheet and tick off or jot down the features each service has so you can compare them all at once. Once you’ve decided which one’s best for you, all you have to do is sign up.
If you’re balking at the idea of paying a company to report your rent payments to credit bureaus, that’s totally fine. Really, this isn’t a service you should waste money on unless it helps you.
But they do have benefits. For example, when you increase your credit score, you receive lower interest rates on loans and credit cards. That alone could help justify the cost.
But as awesome as these services are, that doesn’t mean you need one. If you have stellar credit and your report shows on-time monthly payments for obligations like your car or credit cards, you don’t need to report your rent payments. The service is best-suited to those who are trying to build credit or repair bad credit.