Application Prior to Background/Credit Check?

9 Replies

Which do you do first...the background check or the application? I an using TransUnion My Smart Move, but folks seem reluctant to fill out their personal information...should I have them complete the application first? thoughts? Thanks


In general (and MySmartMove is slightly different legally), you need the signed application giving them permission to run the check first.

If you send them down SmartMove then they authorize it so technically you don't need the application. I too would be weirded out by an email saying enter your SSN on this page.


I always have applicants submit the full application before doing credit/background.  I don't even charge for applications.  I take them, review all the information, do my "googling" and general research based on their application and only after I'm ready to move forward with them do I ask an applicant to do the credit/background portion, at which point they pay MySmartMove directly.

What kind of personal information are they reluctant to give?  They're not even giving it to YOU in this case, they're giving it to TransUnion.  I guess I don't understand the reluctance.

@Susan M.

I see this a lot, and I understand both your view and the potential tenant's. 

We educate people to beware of phishing attempts, to safeguard their SSN, to not enter personal information on sites we don't recognize, correct?

Then along comes someone you probably just met on Craigslist (which has these huge warnings in the Rental section about Scams), and then you get an email from something called "MySmartMove" which asks you to click and enter all sorts of personal information.

Just as an FYI the start to finish rate on SmartMove is around 50-60% - meaning only 50-60% of people starting the form will finish it.

It can go either way, but if I was not tech savvy that's what I would see.

We are REI people are familiar with the various credit bureaus, with mySmartMove or the Experian product. But if you're a normative tenant moving every 3-5 years, you're not up to date on the latest and greatest in RE technology, and even if you have an iPhone and buy stuff from Amazon on your phone, you're not going to want to enter your SSN online, on a site you've never heard about.

My folks complete a hard copy app or pdf app I e-mail to them and they print and submit with the small app fee.  Some older professional folks are reluctant to provide their sensitive info, but it is rare.  With the signed app, I then begin screening. Just be sure your process is consistent for all applicants, as I'm sure you know @Brandon Sturgill !

Originally posted by @Susan M. :

  I take them, review all the information, do my "googling" and general research based on their application and only after I'm ready to move forward with them do I ask an applicant to do the credit/background portion, at which point they pay MySmartMove directly.

Could you elaborate on your "googling"?  Are you just doing a quick google of the prospective tenants name?  Do you go further an check social media sites?  Just curious because I never thought of this before.

Do you expect to >10 applicants for the property? I'm just starting out-- and only have one duplex (almost ready for the first tenants to move in!), so trying to achieve such a high-level of automation and efficiency isn't really necessary at this point.

Seeing it from their perspective-- perhaps it's just the mistrust of filling out the application online. You would ask for the same info on a written application, right? So then, it's likely not so much the sharing of information that gives them hesitation,it's likely a mistrust of an unknown online service.

Couple ideas:

1) When you email them the link to the online screening service, include some background on the service-- such as the digital security they use / which third-party (Verisign) has certified them / years in biz / how many screens completed / link their listing on the Better Biz Bureau rating / etc. The applicants needs some reassurance that they can trust their vital personal information both to you (a complete stranger) and an unknown online company.

2) Use a more manual approach. I email them a fillable PDF version of the application form, have them complete it and email back to me. (I've uploaded the one I created in the BP FilePlace (Resources / File Place). I'll email it to you directly if you PM me.) The screening service I've chosen ( does not require any input or interaction from the prospective tenant at all.

I've actually just started screening my first tenants, and so far, the process is working well.

Good luck!

@Ariel O.

Excellent points.  I guess I forget sometimes that although I'm super familiar with all this stuff, everyone else may not be.

@Donnie M.

I Google their name, I search county court records for their name (criminal and civil), I search social media sites for any information I can find.  Sometimes I will Google the addresses of their previous residences to see what type of places they have been living in, or Google their employer if I'm not familiar with it. That's about it, and that's usually more than enough information, in addition to the information provided on their application, to decide whether I want to move forward with credit/background checks.  Remember that by this time I've alrady received a "pre-application" from them before I ever approved them to see the property and I've met them at the property in person.

You'd be amazed at what some people put out there on the internet, free for everyone to see.  Lots of people have blogs. Lots of people talk on message boards.  You can sometimes find all those things Googling their name, or their email address. You can find out their hobbies, the groups they belong to, the pets they have, the music they like, the friends they hang out with. Googling their phone number can sometimes turn up interesting results too.  Use the tools at your disposal to find out what you can. If they're putting it out there, I have every right to look for it and use it in my decision making process.

I just wanted to provide a real-life example of what a little research can accomplish. 

I just listed a unit for rent this morning. I have a "pre-application" that interested parties must complete. It's on my website and I get the responses emailed to me. Applicant answers question "have you ever been served an eviction notice" with "no". The rest of her pre-app looked good. I went to our county court website and she has been in court THREE times for eviction, multiple times for speeding tickets, once for a disorderly conduct and another time for some sort of dispute that I can't figure out. Regardless, she has now lied on her "pre-app" which automatically disqualifies her, not to mention the THREE evictions. 

I found all this out in 5 minutes. Now I don't have to waste my time talking to her or meeting with her or anything. Next!!

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