SmartMove is one of TransUnion’s tenant screening products. TransUnion is one of three major credit bureaus along with Experian and Equifax. In this SmartMove review, we will discuss the pros and the cons of their tenant screening product. This article will refer to the SmartMove product as the TransUnion Full Credit Report. Before we begin, let’s briefly examine how the product has evolved.
TransUnion SmartMove Over the Years
Here are some significant milestones and updates for the TransUnion SmartMove report:
- December 2010 – MySmartMove.com domain is registered and the service is launched shortly after
- December 2014 – Eviction records became available
- July 2017 – Judgments and liens were removed from reports
- April 2018 – Income Insights became available
You’re probably wondering why judgments and liens were removed and we will get to that later in this post. Before we dive into this review, it’s worth noting who I am and any bias I have in writing this article. My name is Stephen White, I’m the Founder of RentPrep a nationwide tenant screening service since 2007. I’m uniquely qualified to review the TransUnion Full Credit Report product because we offer it as one of our screening packages.
Until 2014, I largely dismissed the TransUnion Full Credit Report product because it did not include eviction data, which is the most critical data a landlord can look at. However, many landlords want to see the full credit report including the actual credit score of the tenant applicant. In April 2017, we launched a partnership with TransUnion and began offering their TransUnion Full Credit Report product to our clients.
So, how much does SmartMove cost? Here’s what the TransUnion Full Credit Report pricing looks like as of February 20th, 2023.
SmartCheck Basic – $24.99
SmartCheck Plus – $39.99
SmartCheck Premium – $41.99
If you’re a fine print reader, you may wonder why certain states don’t include criminal data. Later in this post, we will explain why certain states do not offer criminal data to instant background check services.
You’ll notice in the $24.99 SmartCheck Basic package they do not offer eviction data. Again, in my opinion, a tenant screening report without eviction data is not worth your time.
SmartMove Income Insights Product
Income Insights is a new product launched by TransUnion in April 2018.
The product provides the following:
- An estimate of whether or not the applicant’s credit behavior aligns with self-reported income.
- An estimated variance between the applicant’s self-reported income and the Income Insights estimate.
- A recommendation of whether or not to request additional proof of income from an applicant, such as a recent pay stub.
This sounds great for an extra $2 until I tested this on myself and a few others. What I found is that the estimates were off because they’re being based in large part on credit behavior. If your tenant is thrifty and a big saver, this tool will likely tell you they make less than what they reported. That’s because it looks at their credit history and average expenditures and compares that against their algorithm. I wouldn’t want to look at a tenant applicant in a negative light because of an estimate that underreports their income.
Cons Of SmartMove
There are pros and cons to every service and I’ll do my best to explain those with TransUnion Full Credit Report.
1. Criminal Data
First, let’s address the criminal data not offered in 5 States. Certain States have decided not to allow “instantaneous access” to their criminal data. Why would a state do this?
You guessed it…money.
If your tenant applicant committed a crime in Colorado, Delaware, South Dakota, Wyoming, or Massachusetts, you would not see this data on a TransUnion Full Credit report. South Carolina is starting to move down this road as well. These States realize they can make an extra buck by charging CRAs (Consumer Reporting Agencies) to access their data.
Every time we run a RentPrep Background Check we pay a little extra for the criminal data in those states whereas TransUnion Full Credit Report, also known as SmartMove, omits that data. Something to be aware of is that even if your rental is not in that State, that doesn’t mean your applicant didn’t live there at some time.
2. Tenant Involvement
This one bothers some landlords and others could care less. When you order the report, also known as SmartMove, the sequence of events looks like this:
- Place the order for the report
- Enter your applicant’s email
- Your applicant receives an email and fills out the necessary details
- You’re notified that your report is ready
This oversimplifies the TransUnion Full Credit Report ordering process, but I want to address the gap between Step 2 and Step 3. If your tenant applicant fills out the necessary details minutes after getting their email, you’ll receive a completed report within 10-15 minutes of placing the order. If the renter takes a week to complete Step 3, you won’t receive the information for a week. Let’s say a potential renter loses that email in their spam folder, you’re not getting that report until they get it. If your tenant applicant doesn’t have an email address, they cannot use the TransUnion Full Credit Report option.
Some landlords could care less about tenant involvement because they see it as a warning sign if the tenant cannot complete the report promptly. The advantage of no tenant involvement is that you can move through the tenant screening process quicker (in most instances) and at a more predictable pace. You’ll see many services touting themselves as “Instant Screening Services.” Most of these services assume the applicant will do their part immediately, which is unrealistic.
We’ve found that about 40% of ordered TransUnion Full Credit reports, also known as SmartMove, are never completed by the tenant applicant.
3. Instant Data = Instant Errors
My major problem with TransUnion Full Credit Report is not a problem inherent to only TransUnion Full Credit Report, but a problem plagues most tenant screening services. And that is the actual data that gets returned. Instant criminal records are not as accurate (as discussed earlier).
TransUnion Full Credit Report contains a national criminal background report as well. The problem with this is that database criminal reports are not as accurate. For this very reason database criminal reports are not allowed for employment screening.
We use multiple databases on RentPrep Background Checks (3 to be exact) because every day we find a criminal record that is recorded in one database and not the other. The explanation for this is simple, the courts and sources of these records have no obligation to share their documents with any particular database. That means we can find a criminal record for murder on one database and not a single record on another for the same person.
We realized this huge problem many years ago and stopped offering instant criminal background checks. Instead, we aggregate every report through an FCRA Certified Screener who can search multiple databases and ensure the quality and accuracy of the report being returned.
4. Eviction Records Are Spotty
I’ve often said that once a person goes through an eviction, they’re more likely to go through another. They’ve lost the fear of the unknown and know there’s light on the other side of eviction. A second eviction is like going through a haunted house the second time, it’s far less scary.
We see many cases where an eviction is filed and appears on a judgment search, but not an eviction search. So again the only solution is to run these tenant screening reports using multiple databases, which an instant report plugged into one database, like TransUnion Full Credit Report, cannot do. A credit report is NOT a background check. However, there is a way to run a TransUnion Full Credit report and still be able to see Judgment and Liens.
5. Judgments and Liens
As of July 1st, 2017, the three major credit bureaus began removing judgments and tax liens from credit reports. This was due to the creation of the National Consumer Assistance Plan. The TransUnion Full Credit Report is a souped-up credit report, it will no longer show 95% of Civil judgments and over half of all tax liens. I discussed this on episode #149 of the RentPrep For Landlords Podcast.
We recorded the podcast above four months before these changes took place. Looking back, we have more data over a year later, such as the quote below.
Both TransUnion and Equifax found that about 9 percent of people in the national consumer credit databases have either a tax lien or judgment reported on their credit file. That’s about 19.8 million people who could be affected by the change. – Credit Karma.
However, not every tax lien or judgment has been removed from credit reports, just the majority. FICO ran a study on 10 million credit files and found that about 6 to 7 percent of their 10 million files had a judgment or tax lien removed from their file. At a population of about 336 million, you can figure about 19.7 to 23 million Americans who have had a judgment or tax lien removed from their credit report due to the National Consumer Assistance Plan.
How important is this data though? It turns out it’s essential.
LexisNexis Risk Solutions, an aggregator and seller of information, found that mortgage borrowers who have a judgment or tax lien are 5 ½ times more likely to go into pre-foreclosure or foreclosure. – BusinessWire
A mortgage lender will not lend to someone who is 5.5 times more likely to go into pre-foreclosure or foreclosure. That’s for a homeowner, now I’d wage that those numbers are even higher for a renter not paying their rent on time. Unfortunately, rent payments are not typically reported so there is no juicy data to share.
There is a silver lining though—our TransUnion Full Credit Report package with the $7.00 add-on for judgments and liens. You’ll receive a report identical to the SmartCheck Plus report. All the data comes directly from TransUnion. One of our FCRA Certified Screeners will do a manual Judgment/Lien search after your tenant finishes their part of the ordering process.
As far as we know, we’re the only tenant screening service in the U.S. offering this add-on to TransUnion Full Credit Report. Most automated services do not do this; this search requires a human screener.
Why Not Use TransUnion For The Report?
This is a fair question. As mentioned earlier we can offer the Judgment/Lien search, but we also provide more than that. Our mission is to help landlords before, during and after the tenant screening process. That’s why we’ve created a host of free resources for you.
RentPrep For Landlords Facebook Group
When you create a RentPrep account, you can join our RentPrep For Landlords Facebook group. This Facebook Group has over 13,500 landlords ready to answer your questions. It’s a free bonus we offer to RentPrep clients.
We also have our podcast to keep you updated on the latest news affecting landlords. The podcast is listed on significant streaming channels including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more. We’ve also included the transcriptions of podcasts on our blog.
RentPrep Weekly Newsletter
Every Tuesday, we send out our weekly newsletter with the latest posts from our blog and any company news or industry insights we may have for landlords.
Pros Of SmartMove
After all, we offer the product and find it the best of the instant credit report options on the market.
1. Reputable Company
The top of this short list is going to be the fact that TransUnion Full Credit Report is a TransUnion product. I like this because TransUnion is the authority in credit reports for the real estate industry.
Having used all three bureaus’ credit reports (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) I have to say that TransUnion uses a FICO score model that is much more “real estate friendly” because it doesn’t inflate the scores.
This is only useful if you know about credit scores, and how to read a credit report.
2. Full Credit Report With Score
We offer a Tenant Credit Check that can be added to our RentPrep Background Checks. Some landlords (including Brandon Turner of BiggerPockets) love this option. However, some landlords don’t want a pass/fail metric and want to see the specific credit score. If this is you, we recommend sticking with a TransUnion Full Credit Report.
3. Tenants Can Pay
Finally, the last feature I like about the SmartMove report is letting the tenant pay for the report. This is not a feature exclusive to TransUnion Full Credit Report, but it’s convenient for a landlord who doesn’t want to handle application fees.
Final Verdict On SmartMove
It all depends on what you’re looking for with a screening service. You’re not wrong with whatever you choose. Many screening services will “white label” the TransUnion Full Credit Report product as their own. If they offer complete credit reports, without onsite inspections, they’re using either TransUnion Full Credit Report or Experian Connect to gather that data.
I believe between those two services that the TransUnion Full Credit Report is the superior product. We don’t believe in white labeling services. Transparency is one of our values as a company, which is why we make known that we work directly with TransUnion on this.
If you’re set on seeing the credit report with the score, your best bet is the TransUnion Full Credit Report. If you want to know the judgment and liens search, you’ll only see that by ordering a TransUnion Full Credit Report through RentPrep. Purchase the RentPrep report here.
Being a prospective renters my husband and I were I asked to use SmartMove by the owner. After being turned down the owner was kind enough to send us a copy of the report. What we found was outrageous! But only were pages 2 and 3 superimposed over each other, they listed that we have had a criminal eviction! They also suggested the owner do a criminal background check. We were devastated! Not only do neither of us have an eviction of ANY kind, we absolutely do NOT have a criminal history! After that I downloaded our regular TransUnion report which lists neither of the offending items. This program sucks and cost us $90 and a nice place to live. If you doubt me I would be happy to forward you a copy of the report.
I have been using SmartMove for over a year now and haven’t had any issues; of course here I am solely trusting the site to be accurate. So far so good. We recently have a set of applicants with one having evictions in the report however on my application they have replied not having any evictions. Before I address the issue with the applicant I would like to know for sure if the information provided by SmartMove is true and accurate. I would not want to be wrong and hurt anyone’s feeling for no reason.
Steve, tricky question. The correct answer is – Transunion uses the national eviction database records to report evictions. Since this is an instant report, pulled directly from a database without any human being verifying the information for accuracy, there is certainly a chance the information is wrong. We see evictions everyday that are filed under an applicant’s name, but does not belong to that applicant.
On the flip side of this.. applicants do lie. I have seen my share of disputes that turn out to be unfounded or frivolous. My advice is to see where the eviction was filed (what court) and then make a call to the court. What you would want to verify is the address the eviction notice was served to and if there are any notes or documentation detailing who was served with the notice. Often the process server will note who accepted service. Hopefully there will be some information to help sort out who it was.
Lastly, your final option would be to run the applicant through a service like RentPrep that can use address records and other identifying markers to determine if the eviction belongs to them or not. If you’d like to take this route, call our office and ask for me, Stephen White, and I’ll be more than happy to help you. Unfortunately, instant background checks are convenient, just not accurate.
Hey Mark, I can appreciate your point of view. Although I don’t agree that reviewing a competitor service is a conflict of interest, especially if they provide something different.
Like most companies, our service is great for some and not so much for others. So we regularly recommend using SmartMove for landlords that are looking for something that we don’t offer. Since the majority of services out there that offer something similar to SmartMove are actually just white-labeling the product – I think my approach is the more honest and direct one. If you read the article, I never say SmartMove is bad and RentPrep is good. I’m sure to point out that when screening tenants there are many tools of the trade and to be sure you know what you want so you know where to get it.
As for your thoughts on charging application fees – many states impose restrictions on what landlords can charge. But regardless of that, the application fee insures that serious inquiries are being made. Imagine if a landlord actually ran 50 applications and all of them were just “kicking tires” as they say. Now that landlord has just wasted a lot of money and time. Furthermore, I don’t know a single place that runs all 50 applications if they do get that many people applying for one home. They will narrow down the top prospects based on the right fit, then perform background checks as part of their own due diligence to ensure they’re not renting to someone with a violent criminal history, or a track record of paying their rent late. Or even worse, not paying their rent at all and have been evicted recently.
I can understand your logic, but being in the industry, and being a landlord myself, I can honestly tell you that it’s not common, or practical, to count application fees as a stream of revenue. The point of them is to cover the cost of protecting our property and other tenants that count on me to not rent to dangerous people and ensure their safety. So unless you have another idea for how to find these things out, background checks will be the answer and landlords will pass along the cost – as they should.
I’m a renter and I see the rental application process very differently. The Agents/Owners that I have come into contact with in Orlando Fl, tell you to go to their website fill out an online application, pay the application fee online… etc. I think we all know since the housing bubble burst, the rental market has skyrocketed, hence monthly rental prices are overinflated due to the demand. It’s ridiculous and then on top of that the application fee is ridiculous. Why should a renter have to pay for something that the Agent/Owner wants – it doesn’t make sense… It would be like me telling the Agent/Owner that he has to pay me to rent his home because I’m a great renter, I’m never late on my payments, I don’t have any criminal background etc. I can provide the proof myself. It’s very easy to obtain a credit report and a criminal Background investigation, eviction notice etc. I can get that information and give copies to all the homes I apply for, why should I be forced to pay for something that I may not get anything for? There is no guaranty that I will get the home if I apply and Agent/Owner can tell me anything he or she wants without providing anything to back it up, even if the Agent/Owner doesn’t like the way I tie my shoes… Why, because there is very little Anti-Discrimination Laws that protects the rental consumer. I’m sorry but Lessors have found a way to make a quick buck from innocent people.
I’d like to add some other variables to the Renter’s point of view. Every time a personal credit report is requested it lowers the credit score. That’s why Transunion Created SmartMove. If a renter creates a https://mysmartmove.com account, which is free for renters, then this account will prevent me from having my credit score lowered by Agents/Owners requesting my credit history. When I lease a house, I’m not asking for credit and I? I agree with Stephan’s Logic:
“People can have bad credit and still pay their rent every month.
People can have past criminal records and still pay their rent every month.
People with a prior eviction could still pay their rent every month.
Plus, an eviction report is the only report that’s specific to the rental industry.”
To me, requesting a Credit Report to Lease a home is just a scam to make extra money. The housing market is trying to climb out of a hole and finding it very difficult. What happened to a signed Lease, a handshake, a person’s word??? Today everything is based on making a buck. Nothing much else matters.
There are alterior motives behind this credit report request as well. The Agents especially are prying into your personal financial history to see if you may be a candidate to buy a home, or to see if they can up-sell you into a more expensive rental. I see many low priced rental homes listed but when you call the agent, that home is rented, and of course they have more that are higher priced. My advice is get mysmartmove.com and if the Agent/Owner insists on needing a credit report, ask why, Don’t give your Social Security to anybody unless they can prove how it will be protected, never put your Social Security number in a risk for compromise. There is just to much identity theft happening today.
You really have to look at this from the landlord’s perspective. My husband and I own a home that we rent out that has NO mortgage costing us over $1000 a month for expenses such as taxes, insurance, management fees, lawn service, etc. The money we get from tenants only covers these expenses and nothing more. We cannot afford to entrust our home to someone who will trash it and not pay the rent. It is imperative to thoroughly check out a tenant, and that tenant, if truly interested in rented it, should have to pay for fees and/or reports for us to screen them.
Sue, I don’t think you could have presented a more reasonable argument. You represent about 95% of the landlords I’ve ever met, or spoke with. You’re managing the property correctly with the hopes that a bad tenant doesn’t come along and take you from breaking even every month, to now losing money.
You have the right to know who you’re dealing with before you hand over the keys to a 6 figure investment. If Mark were buying a car or applying for a credit card, he’d have to go through a screening process just the same. A house is worth far more than most cars, so why would it be out of the ordinary to want to screen a tenant? And don’t think for a second that the finance companies or credit card issuers aren’t charging for the screening! They just add it as a processing fee or setup fee.
The image of landlords being greedy, unreasonable people that try to take advantage of tenants, is old and needs to change. Good landlords screen tenants, and good tenants pay application fees because they understand this is how it works when you want a nice place to live.
Application fees are a scam as are credit reports. The credit bureaus are NOT in the business of protecting the consumer and are only interested in making a buck. Despite protests to the contrary, it is NOT easy to correct a credit report or ANY portion of a person’s credit history without an act of God (or so it seems). I have entries on my credit report for my daughter’s student loan going back to 2000 even though the accounts are paid and closed. Transunion has refused to remove those. i am in an eviction record for an eviction that never existed and for which there is no legal documentation to prove I have EVER been evicted. I have a loan for a car on my reports that I never made and never knew about. Shame on the vultures and thieves waiting to prey on innocent people. Through circumstance or happenstance, my credit is not the greatest and fighting the discrepancies is a time-consuming worthless process because nothing changes. I filed a complaint with the attorney general in my state and expect that will be disregarded as well. It’s all political crapola.
I understand. Dealing with credit bureaus can be extremely frustrating and getting things corrected can feel like an impossible task. The reason you see so many credit monitoring sites and credit repair services popping up is because of the giant need to service people like yourself.
As for application fees, I don’t think it’s fair to lump these into the same category as credit reports. Most often, the application fees are used to run eviction and criminal data, not just credit information. It’s a way for landlords to protect themselves, their property, other tenants, and ultimately the community. I agree that dealing with credit issues is difficult but finding out your tenant has been cooking meth in your house and now your property must be condemned is also difficult and frustrating.
Your situation is becoming more and more common unfortunately. But that can’t mean we abandon processes meant to protect people.