There are plenty of things to worry about if you don't pay your rent, like sinking into a financial hole or getting evicted. However, falling behind on your rent usually won't hurt your credit rating. On the other hand, a good rent payment history probably won't help your credit score. A poor payment record still makes it hard to find digs elsewhere and throwing every extra dime into covering back rent may have an effect on your overall finances.
Payments and non-payments must be reported to credit bureaus to make any difference on your FICO score. Because rent isn't the same as credit, landlords don't usually report your payment records. However, this may change. RentBureau, a rental reporting service owned by Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, can report good and bad rental payment habits. While this service was only extended to large rental companies in the past, nowadays any landlord can opt in.
If things get ugly and your landlord takes you to court if you fall behind on the rent, the whole story changes because the issue becomes a public matter. Any judgments against you appear on your credit record no matter where they're from. If a judgment is filed against you and your landlord reports your lack of payment to RentBureau or a similar agency, your credit score gets hurt twice as badly.
Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
Falling behind on your rent can indirectly hurt your credit score. You may decide having a place to live gets top priority and hold off on paying your other bills while you catch up. While this may sound like a good option, skipping your car payment to pay the rent shows up on your credit report.
References and Reports
Although a poor record in paying your rent won't necessarily hurt your credit score, you may have problems finding another place to live as a result. Most landlords ask for references and call your previous landlords. Larger rental companies may ask for a credit report anyway and a poor score might make you a less attractive prospect as a tenant.
To answer issues about rent and credit, several companies have formed to keep credit bureaus up to date. They do this by reporting your payments as verified by bank statements or rental receipts and by drawing your rent from a bank account and paying it for you. If you run behind on your rent -- or if your attached bank account runs dry -- these transgressions also get reported and shave valuable points off your FICO score.
Al Bondigas is an award-winning newspaperman who started writing professionally in 1985. His print credits include the "Mohave Valley Daily News" and "The Mohave County Standard." Bondigas studied journalism at San Bernardino Valley College in California.