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Know Your Rights » Moving Out » Credit & Collections

Credit Reports

Credit is one of the primary issues that landlords consider when screening tenants. If you know that you have credit problems, or if you find yourself paying numerous costly credit check fees to apartment buildings, you can take a copy of your credit report to the landlord when you look at the apartment and show them any blemishes that appear. Landlords do not have to accept your copy of the credit report, but you can explain what happened to your credit and what you are doing to clear up the problem. It’s a good idea to have a complete rental résumé, including employment information, references from previous landlords, supervisors, social workers and other community members, such as pastors. This can be especially important if you have credit issues or blemishes in your rental history. If you have bad credit you may be able to offer an additional deposit or a shorter lease to move in. For a complete discussion of tenant screening issues, see Tenant Screening.

You may be able to improve your credit by paying off any judgments or debts and making sure everything that appears on the report is correct. It will take work to clean up your credit. There is no quick way to get rid of credit issues, but many landlords will be more willing to work with you if you have negotiated a payment plan to pay off back debts. Solid Ground offers Financial Fitness Boot Camp that may be helpful in getting back on your feet financially.

As of December 2004, the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three big credit reporting agencies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. If you have already received a free credit report and need to order another, it will be about $10. It will cost a few dollars more if you would also like a credit score (FICO score), in addition to your report. There are three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These agencies have set up one central website, phone number, and address through which you can order your free annual report. Be careful of fake or fraudulent websites.

To order a copy of your credit report, go to Annual Credit Report, call 877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print the form from the Federal Trade Commission’s Credit & Loans webpage. Keep in mind that each of the three credit reporting agencies above will have different information on you, so Equifax might show an account that Experian does not, for example. It all depends on whom your creditors use. You might want to get all three, requesting a different one every few months so you have the complete picture. Be sure you use only Annual Credit Report. There are many similar websites that claim to offer the same thing, but are fake and trying to collect private information from you for criminal purposes.

If the entire reason or part of the reason the landlord denied your tenancy is because of your credit report, they must tell you that they did so and provide you with the name, address and phone number of the credit reporting agency that provided that information to them. In turn, that credit reporting agency must provide you with a free copy of your credit report. Typically, in order to obtain the free report you must make the request within 30 days. For more information, see the Federal Trade Commission’s A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FTC also has a guide to cleaning up your credit called Credit Repair: How to Help Yourself.

Unpaid collections actions against you will have negative implications on your credit. A collection agency can contact one or more credit reporting agencies to inform them of the debt that you owe, but if you have disputed that you owe the debt in writing, they must include that information. See Collection Agencies for more information on your rights in regards to collection agencies.

If there are errors on your credit report because of identity theft or other reasons, you may be able to petition the credit reporting agencies to have the information corrected or removed. You can put a request in writing regarding the error to both the credit reporting agency and the entity that provided them the information. Include copies of any documentation you can gather to support your claim, and send your correspondence certified mail, return receipt. Be sure and keep copies of all your letters. The credit reporting agency usually has 30 days to investigate your complaint. Even if your complaint is not resolved following the investigation, you can request that they include a copy of your dispute be included in your file and accompany all future copies of your report when they are requested. See more information and a sample dispute letter at the FTC’s How to Dispute Credit Report Errors and My Fair Credit. See also Common Credit Dispute Questions from TransUnion.

TU Campaign The TU is currently working to improve tenants’ rights with screening companies and landlords in the screening process. See Fair Tenant Screening Act for more information.