How to Read a Credit Report

An individual's credit report is one of the most important tools landlords should be utilizing to help ensure their properties are rented to the most qualified candidates in the market.

Along with employment and past references, credit is a critical decision making tool, but it's not as effective if it's not completely understood.

This sample offers a nice layout and helps with the explanations that follow.

 

Tradelines

This is the area on the report where you will find information on accounts and how long they have been open.

The trade term "seasoned tradeline" indicates one that has been open for a long time.

Usually, the longer an account is open, the more positively it influences a credit score.

There are companies that will essentially sell tradelines that are meant to boost the credit rating.

While the practice may seem unethical, it's not illegal.

It's one reason landlords should be wise to look beyond just the credit score.

Tradelines will start by listing the lender and the loan type, such as credit card, car loan, or line of credit.

Next, the report will list a designator and then the industry the credit falls under.

Last, it will list the current status of the account, which is the most important section -- you want to rent to people who are current on their credit obligations and rarely late.

Collections

As you might assume, this section will provide alerts regarding any accounts going to collections and whether they are still open or have been resolved.

If a person had  an account go to collection but has paid it off, it will still be listed in the Collections section.

An update in August 2014 changed the way medical bills reflected on credit reports, lessening their impact, which is a big help for consumers who were hit by enormous medical bills and were simply unable to pay them.

But remember, if a person walked away from routine obligations such as cell phone payments or a credit card, they probably aren't the best candidate -- though context should also be considered in such situations.

Context

It's important to look at any credit report through a lens that takes into account some level of context, which is what the new rule on FICO score reporting is meant to provide.

However, it may be years before the changes are fully implemented, so it's helpful if those who are reading credit reports understand context too, and not just with regard to medical bills.

If a potential renter has a lower score because of medical costs going to collection, it's not by itself an indication of risk when it comes to paying rent on time.

Another situation where a little leeway is good is if a person is coming off of a divorce.

If the shared bills have had to go to collection and your applicant can show they are otherwise quite responsible, that's worth taking into consideration.

Employment

This section tells the reader about the place of employment, but you need to be aware that it's one of the most inaccurate sections of credit reporting.

Frequently, employers aren't listed at all, or the reporting agencies list people working someplace when in fact they haven't for years.

Employment is best verified outside of the credit report.

Errors

The high confidence everything from banks to employers and even dating sites place on credit scores might make you assume they are correct, but the truth is that credit reports can often report errors.

If a report is telling you something about a potential renter but that person has evidence to the contrary, it's probably an error.

Many people don't find out their credit reports have mistakes until they have their credit run, so it's possible they were completely unaware.

Posted on Nov 18, 2014

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