TransUnion is one of three major credit bureaus along with Experian and Equifax.
In this TransUnion SmartMove review, we will be breaking down the good and the bad of their tenant screening product.
Before we begin let’s take a brief look at how the product has evolved.
TransUnion SmartMove Over the Years
Here are some major milestones and updates for TransUnion SmartMove:
- December 2010 – MySmartMove.com domain is registered and 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 on 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 and I’m the founder of RentPrep a nationwide tenant screening service since 2007.
I’m uniquely qualified to review the SmartMove product because we offer it as one of our screening packages but we don’t recommend it for every landlord.
Until 2014 I largely dismissed the SmartMove product because it did not include eviction data which in my opinion is the most important 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 of 2017, we launched a partnership with TransUnion and began offering their SmartMove product to our clients.
SmartMove Pricing (on the TransUnion site)
Here’s what the SmartMove pricing looks like as of February 13th, 2019.
SmartCheck Basic – $25
SmartCheck Plus – $38
SmartCheck Premium – $40
If you’re a reader of fine print you may be wondering why certain states don’t include criminal data. There is actually a 5th state in Colorado that as of January 2018 no longer offers criminal data on SmartMove reports.
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 $25 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.
The SmartCheck Plus package comes in at $38. This is the same product we offer here at RentPrep for $35.
The reason we offer it for less is that SmartMove bumped up their pricing of this package when they launched the SmartCheck Premium package in April of 2018.
We have decided not to offer their newest package which includes “Income Insights.”
What are Income Insights with SmartMove?
Income Insights is a new product launched by SmartMove in April of 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 other people.
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 is most likely going to tell you that 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 under reports their income.
Pros and Cons of TransUnion SmartMove
There are pros and cons to every service and I’ll do my best to explain those with SmartMove.
Con #1 – Criminal Data
First, let’s address the criminal data not being offered in 5 States.
Certain States have decided to not allow “instantaneous access” to their criminal data.
Why would a State do this?
You guessed it…
If your tenant applicant committed a crime in Colorado, Delaware, South Dakota, Wyoming, or Massachusets you will not see this data on a SmartMove 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 SmartMove just omits that data.
Something to be aware of… even if your rental is not in that State, that doesn’t mean your applicant didn’t live there at some time. So keep that in mind.
Con #2 – Tenant Involvement
This one bothers some landlords and others could care less.
When you order a SmartMove report the sequence of events looks like this:
- Place an order for a SmartMove report
- Enter your applicant’s email
- Applicant receives email and fills out necessary details
- You’re notified that your report is ready
This is an oversimplification of the SmartMove 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 your tenant applicant takes a week to complete step 3 you won’t receive the report for a week.
If your tenant applicant loses that email to a spam folder… you’re not getting that report until this is figured out.
If your tenant applicant doesn’t have an email address, they cannot use SmartMove.
We’ve found that about 30% of ordered SmartMove reports are never completed by the tenant applicant
Some landlords could care less about tenant involvement because they see it as a warning sign if the tenant cannot complete the report in a timely manner.
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 a lot of services touting themselves at “Instant Screening Services.” Most of these services are assuming the applicant will do their part immediately which is not realistic.
Con #3 – Instant Data = Instant Errors
My major problem with SmartMove is actually not a problem inherent to only SmartMove, but a problem that plagues most tenant screening services.
And that is the actual data that gets returned.
Instant criminal records are not as accurate (as discussed earlier).
SmartMove obviously includes a TransUnion credit report, but it also 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 records 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 gigantic problem many years ago and completely 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.
Eviction records are spotty
I’ve often said that once a person goes through an eviction, they’re more likely to go through another. I
They’ve lost the fear of the unknown and they know that there’s light on the other side of an eviction.
A second eviction is like going through a haunted house the second time, it’s far less scary.
We see so 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 SmartMove, cannot do.
A credit report is NOT a background check.
However, there is a way to run a SmartMove report and still be able to see Judgment and Liens…
Con #4 – 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.
Since SmartMove is owned by TransUnion and 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.
Now looking back, over a year later, we have more data to look at 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. This according to Credit Karma.
However, not every tax lien or judgment has been removed from credit reports, just the large 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 328 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?
Turns out it’s very important.
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. – Source Factual Data
A mortgage lender is not going to lend to someone that 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.
There is a silver lining though…
The screenshot above is from our SmartMove ordering process.
The red arrow is highlighting the fact that you can add a Judgment/Lien Search to your SmartMove report for $7.00.
This is only available when you set up a free account with RentPrep.
Our SmartMove package with the $7.00 add-on comes to $45.00 or essentially 5 cents less than SmartMove’s SmartCheck Premium package offered directly through TransUnion.
The way this works is that you’ll receive a report identical to the SmartCheck Plus report. All the data comes directly from TransUnion SmartMove.
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 SmartMove reports.
Most services won’t do this because they’re automated platforms and this search requires a human screener to perform it.
Why not go directly to SmartMove?
This is a fair question.
As mentioned earlier we have the ability to offer the Judgment/Lien search but we also offer more than just 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.
When you created a RentPrep account you can use your email login as your password to join our RentPrep For Landlords Facebook group.
This Facebook Group has over 9,500 landlords ready to answer your questions. It’s a free added bonus we offer to RentPrep clients.
We also have our Podcast and Weekly Newsletter to keep you updated on the latest news affecting landlords. Both accessible from our resources center.
I’ve taken some time to talk about the negatives of SmartMove, let’s take a look at some of the positives.
What I do like about SmartMove
After all , we do offer the product and find it to be 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 SmartMove 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 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
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 SmartMove report.
3. Tenants can pay
Finally, the last feature I like about SmartMove is the ability to let the tenant pay for the report.
This is not a feature exclusive to SmartMove, but it’s a convenience to a landlord that doesn’t want to handle application fees.
It all depends on what you’re looking for with a screening service.
You’re not wrong for whatever you choose.
Many screening services you’ll find will “white label” the SmartMove product as their own.
If they offer full credit reports, without onsite inspections, they’re using either Transunion SmartMove or Experian Connect to gather that data.
I believe between those two services that SmartMove is the superior product.
We don’t believe in white labeling services. Transparency is one of our values as a company and we hope we’ve been as transparent as possible in this review of SmartMove.
If your dead set on seeing the credit report with the score you’re best bet is SmartMove.
If you want to see the judgment and liens search, the only way you’ll see that is by ordering a SmartMove Report through RentPrep.
If you have any questions feel free to click the “Live Chat” button that will connect you to a screener in our office or give us a call at (888) 877-8501.
Customer support is one of the pillars our business has been built upon and we’re here to help you before, during and after the tenant screening process.