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Renters feel the same pain homeowners do, facing a big bill that comes due every month. But homeowners at least get a positive entry on their credit reports when they pay it. Renters don’t.
LevelCredit and some other rental reporting services are out to change that. They offer a way to get a positive rental payment history onto credit reports, which are used to calculate credit scores needed to qualify for credit cards, personal loans and mortgages.
Traditionally, credit scoring algorithms have relied on revolving debt from credit cards and installment debt from loans and mortgages to gauge a borrower’s creditworthiness. Some credit scores consider alternative data such as rent and utilities (if they're reported) — and a small industry has emerged to report the data to the major credit bureaus.
Alternative data reported to the credit bureaus may help you qualify for some credit cards or loans. However, you can also build credit in other ways, such as by taking out a credit-builder loan or using a secured credit card.
How does LevelCredit work?
LevelCredit helps you build credit by reporting your rent and utility payments. It's owned by Self, a company that offers credit-building products including credit cards and credit-builder loans. Self also owns the rent-reporting company RentTrack, a service accessible only if your property manager offers it.
LevelCredit identifies rent payments from a linked financial account and reports them to the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It also identifies and reports your utility and cell phone payments, but only to TransUnion.
The service costs $6.95 a month. The optional LookBack feature adds up to 24 months of previous payments for a one-time fee of $49.95.
Subscribers have a dashboard where they can see their credit score and report information and get personalized tips on building credit. LevelCredit says it uses bank-level security to encrypt financial information. The credit score is a VantageScore 3.0 based on TransUnion data.
Is LevelCredit for you?
LevelCredit may be a good fit for those who:
Pay rent via a bank account — whether by Venmo, Zelle or PayPal, an online payment portal or direct deposit.
Need help establishing credit. If you haven't yet been approved for a credit card or installment loan, the credit history established by rental payments and utilities may help you get one.
Don't want to use a credit card or take out a credit-builder loan.
LevelCredit may be less valuable for those who:
Have established credit. If you have a credit card or installment loan, you almost certainly have a traditional credit score already.
Are unwilling to link a financial account to the service so it can search for payments.
Already have a free service that provides a VantageScore 3.0 and offers personalized credit-building tips.
How do you evaluate a service?
First, be sure adding alternative data to your credit reports is going to be valuable to you. It's important to know that not every credit score uses the information. The most recent versions of FICO credit scores — FICO 9 and 10 — factor in alternative data if it's reported, as does FICO's competitor VantageScore. But FICO 8, the scoring model in widest use, does not.
Then, compare the six- or 12-month cost of rent reporting versus that of getting a secured credit card or credit-builder loan. Those products generally report to all three credit bureaus. LevelCredit reports rent to all three major credit bureaus, but reports utilities only to TransUnion.
Some of the LevelCredit features, such as access to credit scores, credit report information and personalized tips, are offered for free from credit cards and personal finance websites, including NerdWallet.
Finally, ask these questions of any rental or utility reporting service you're considering:
What would my total costs be for a year of service, including any setup fees or fees for previous payment history?
How do you protect my personal data?
Which of the major credit bureaus do you report to? (All three is ideal, so that no matter where your credit is checked, these payments are shown.)
Do you provide free access to credit scores, and if so, which score(s)?
How soon should I expect the information to appear on my credit report?
How can I cancel the service?