The Truth About Credit Scores

As eviction moratoria begin to expire, the importance of doing a thorough tenant background check on prospective renters has never been more important.

The truth about credit scores Property owners are increasingly aware of the need to protect themselves from tenants with collections, liens and evictions in their credit history and who may be unable to pay their monthly rent. Owners who previously relied on their intuition now realize that it can be dangerous to sign a lease with someone based purely on how they present themselves. 

Many landlords, even those who have been ordering tenant credit reports for years, will run one on a prospective lessee and then completely ignore it. They are only interested in the accompanying credit score. Unfortunately, these property owners run the risk of renting to someone who is undesirable based on circumstances not revealed by that score alone. 

How Is a Credit Score Computed? 

A credit score is based on an individual’s financial history. It is basically a number calculated to reflect the details in their credit report, including installment obligations, past-due payments, collections, bankruptcies, hard inquiries and other public records.  

The score consists of five factors: 

  1. Payment history (35% of the score). Are payments made as agreed? 
  2. Credit usage (up to 30%). How much does the individual use their available credit?  
  3. Age of open accounts (15%). The longer one’s credit history, the higher their credit scores. 
  4. Types of accounts (10%). A diverse range of credit accounts is actually desirable. 
  5. Hard credit inquiries (10%). Too many new accounts or inquiries can indicate increased risk. 

As a person’s financial profile changes, so does their score. Their credit score can be adversely affected by missing payments, using too much available credit, defaulting on accounts and applying for too much credit within a short time period. 

What a Credit Score Doesn’t Tell You: Part 1 

There are several sections included in an AAOA credit report, each one full of detailed information to help you make an educated decision about your rental applicants: 

Personal information 

  • Name and date of birth. 
  • AKAs and Social Security Number. 
  • Current and past addresses. 
  • Current and past employers. 

Credit Summary 

The Credit Summary gives an overview of a person’s credit history for the past seven years. 

  • Number of hard inquiries, collections, past-due accounts and public records. 
  • Total high credit, mortgage amount, total account balance, etc. 
  • Percentage of credit available. 

Scorecard 

The Resident Score 2.0 will reveal the applicant’s credit score. This ranking is specifically designed for landlords and may be somewhat different than the applicant’s FICO score. 

Key negative factors in calculating the score, such as too many serious delinquencies, too few open revolving accounts or too many serious derogatory items, will be itemized. 

Collections 

The details of any accounts placed in collection will be listed in this section.  

  • Collection agency name and the date account was assigned for collection. 
  • Name of creditor, amount owed and what type of account it is. 
  • Date the account was closed and the status of the debt. 

Public Records 

If the person has filed for bankruptcy during the last ten years, that information will be included in this section. 

In the past, judgments and tax liens were also included on credit reports, but in recent years, the number of public records added to credit reports was reduced to just bankruptcies. AAOA members are able to order a report covering all three categories from our ala carte menu. 

Tradelines 

Credit report details shutterstock_210279451 Tradelines are companies that the applicant has a monthly obligation to pay. This could include an automobile loan, a mortgage, credit cards, student loan, etc. 

Each creditor will be listed along with the following information: 

  • Account number and date it was opened. 
  • The credit limit, high credit used and the recent balance. 
  • The monthly payment and any instances of late payment. 
  • The industry and loan type. 

Also included is a month-by-month record of the applicant’s credit use for that account and any late payments. Please note that “UKN” stands for “unknown” and is a neutral notation. In other words, the creditor may not have reported that month or the applicant may not have owed anything at the time. 

Inquiries 

The final section of the credit report addresses “hard” inquiries made by banks or other lenders. You will learn which companies have accessed the applicant’s report to view their credit worthiness. The information includes the date and type of business that your prospective tenant has approached for a loan, credit card, etc. 

It should be noted that “soft” inquiries will not be listed on your copy of the credit report. They are only available to the applicant if they purchase a copy of their report from AAOA. 

What a Credit Score Doesn’t Tell You: Part 2 

Now that you know the financial habits of your applicant, it’s time to learn more about their character. You will be trusting them with your most important and valuable asset, so it would be irresponsible not to order the following screening reports to see just what kind of person they are. 

TeleCheck® Verification 

Since you are expecting your tenant to pay their rent each month, AAOA believes it is important to know if they are in the habit of writing bad checks. The TeleCheck® Response Message Conditions helps separate good check writers from bad ones. This database comprises more than 51 million bad check records with continually updated information, including bad check activity as it occurs. You will need to enter the applicant’s driver’s license number or state ID when you order this report. 

Previous Address History 

The Previous Address History will list any addresses that have been associated with the prospective tenant. In addition to listing any address at which they have resided, it will also include addresses associated with them for some legitimate reason, such a place of work, a business they owned, a place to which they forwarded mail, had packages delivered, etc. If the number of entries on the list seem excessive, simply ask the applicant to explain them.  

The past address information can be used to help you with other reports that you will be ordering. The data includes the states where the applicant has lived, so you can determine whether you need to order a nationwide eviction or criminal report or just a state search. 

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State Specific or Nationwide Eviction 

If a judgment has been rendered against your applicant during the last seven years, it will appear in this report with the following information: 

  • Court state and name. 
  • Case number and filing date if provided by the court. 
  • Name of the plaintiff and the defendant’s address. 
  • The date and amount of the judgment. 

Please note that there are many ways to remove a tenant without a court judgment. Only cases that have ended in a judgment against the tenant will appear on this report. For more information about the kind of tenant your applicant has been in the past, you can order a Landlord Verification from the AAOA ala carte menu. 

The results of the State and National Eviction reports are based on the name of the prospective tenant and their date of birth. 

Lease Guarantee Analyzer 

In order to protect our members from loss of income up to $10,000 as a consequence of a non-paying tenant, AAOA has an exclusive affiliation with Lease Guarantee. You will be reimbursed for losses incurred from legal fees, unpaid rent and even damages to your property. 

The Lease Guarantee Analyzer qualifies the applicant based on their credit history and determines the cost of that protection. 

State Specific or Nationwide Criminal 

As with the eviction report, you can order a state specific or nationwide criminal report for the last seven years. This report will list only criminal records where a judgment has been rendered and not arrests where further action was not taken. 

A criminal report will include the following information for each criminal record in the applicant’s profile: 

  • Name, address, Social Security Number, date of birth and gender. 
  • The category of the crime, source ID, case number and the filing date. 
  • Arrest date, name of the offense and disposition. 

Sex Offender. OFAC, Terrorist and Federal Searches  

These searches will uncover more information than a credit score could ever tell you. Based on name and date of birth, the results will certainly help you decide on whether you want to rent your property to that individual. 

SSN Verifier Plus 

The Social Security Number Verifier Plus is an indicator as to whether your prospective renter is using a legitimate number issued to them by the United States government. The results will show you the state in which the number was assigned, the year it was issued, date of birth of the person given that number and what their name is. Negative results could indicate fraud and/or identity theft. 

A landlord who makes their leasing decisions based purely on a credit score is running the risk of renting to a very undesirable tenant and living to regret it. Protect your investment and your business by collecting as much information as possible before making your choice.  

The American Apartment Owners Association (AAOA) assists landlords, property managers, real estate owners and brokers across the country with managing their properties. AAOA offers a variety of services to assist with new applicants including a tenant background check or tenant screening and state-specific landlord forms such as a rental application or rental agreement.  The association also offers resources from educational webinars and landlord tenant law to approved providers for insurance and financing. Contact us today to learn more.