Is Tenant Screening Necessary?

As the oldest and most experienced online rent payment service company, we have gotten a lot of questions about landlording over the years. One of the frequent questions is “How can I be assured that my tenants will pay me rent?” One of the best things that a landlord can do, from our experience, is to always do tenant screening.

Tenant Screening Protects Landlords

Your rental property is expensive. Before you hand over the keys to such an expensive property, wouldn’t you want to know as much as possible about the financial behavior of your renter?

TransUnion estimates that the cost of an eviction is $2,500-$3,500 and takes three to four weeks.

Moreover, while tenant screening isn’t perfect, a high credit score statistically correlates to a high likelihood that a landlord will be paid. You can’t be a successful landlord if you are not getting paid.

Tenant Screening Can Be Easy and Free

OK. But isn’t tenant screening a hassle?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Modern tenant screening can be done without a site inspection, and the cost (roughly $40 for a complete credit check with criminal background and eviction history) can be specified to be paid by the tenant. Effectively, tenant screening is free for you as the landlord.

ClearNow recommends starting at The process is entirely online, landlords can specify that the tenant pays, and the results come from TransUnion, one of the big 3 credit bureaus. You can get tenant screening results within minutes.

Hiring a Property Management Company to Collect Rent and More

Landlording can be an exciting adventure for some. It involves building a business to collect rent payment and generate income while providing housing to customers (tenants). Some landlords prefer to do everything on their own, and some prefer to take a more hands off approach and hire a property management company to do it all. And then there are some landlords that want to control some aspects of the business – like filling vacancies – while turning over other responsibilities – like maintenance and rent collection – to a property management company. In any event, hiring a property management company comes at a cost as they charge fees for their services. We’ll take a look at some landlording responsibilities and the pros and cons of doing it yourself or hiring a property management company.

Collecting Rent

As a landlord, there is nothing more important than getting paid through consistent on-time rent collection.

DIY+Know your tenant
+Use online rent payment services like ClearNow & Cozy to simplify process
-Deal with delinquent tenants
-Need to understand eviction process
Hire Property Management Company+Enforce lease policies for late or unpaid rent
+Use online rent payment services like ClearNow & Buildium to directly deposit owner proceeds
Pay property management fee typically as a % of rent collected

Screening Tenants

Finding a tenant that will pay rent on time and keep your property in good condition takes time, so screening tenants becomes an important task.

DIY+Easy to screen without a site inspection
+Credit & eviction reports help eliminate guesswork
-Potential lack of experience with the application and screening process
-Need to develop tenant onboarding method
Hire Property Management Company+Trained eyes to spot good tenant qualities & red flags
+Established process from application to screening to lease signing
– Pay property management fee

Advertising/Listing Properties

Before you can collect rent payment, you have to fill your vacancy. In addition to tenant screening, knowing where and how to place your ads are important tasks to finding the right tenant.

DIY+Easy to list vacancy online with high-traffic websites like Zillow & Trulia.
+Some rental property accounting software like Rentec Direct and Buildium includes listing features
-Need to manage inquiries and property visits
Hire Property Management Company+Expertise at rental marketing to fill vacancies quickly
+Have local real estate knowledge to help set competitive rents
-Pay property management fee

Final Considerations

Hiring a property management company to collect rent, screen tenants, advertise vacancies, and more will likely be based on finding a balance among effort, time, and money. If you can afford the expense of a property management company to free up time and reduce headaches, then that is a win for both parties. At the same time, many of today’s landlord resources have features that benefit both the property manager and owner, like ClearNow’s owner proceeds. As a landlord, you have choice to make the decision easier of whether or not to hire a property management company for your landlording needs.

Mobile Deposit and Rent Checks

One of the satisfying conveniences of the smartphone revolution has been the introduction of “mobile deposit” (using an app to take a picture of a check and deposit it). For landlords and property managers, mobile deposit of rent checks is a big improvement over driving to a bank branch or ATM. But, is the mobile deposit of rent checks the best way for a landlord to receive rent payments? Often there are significant drawbacks with mobile deposit that are overlooked.

The downsides of the mobile deposit of rent checks:

  1. Mobile deposit is still based on receiving a paper check – typically by USPS mail – and this can mean delays and lost checks. The dirty little secret of bank online bill payment is that it is still based on sending checks to landlords and property managers. Only the largest bill payment recipients, like utility companies, get paid electronically. This means most landlords whose tenants use bank online bill payment are still receiving checks. And, mail can get lost or delayed.
  2. Mobile deposit of rent checks often have a hold period or delay. Different banks put different “holds” on access to funds that are mobile deposited. While the first $200 must be available the next day, sometimes the delay on larger amounts can be many business days.
  3. Mobile deposit of rent checks can still bounce. If the tenant does not have enough funds by the time you deposit the check, you will likely be charged an insufficient funds fee (NSF) (often between $27 to $35). Even if the tenant had sufficient funds when the check was created, due to other withdrawals, the tenant may have insufficient funds by the time you deposit a check.

A more advanced method of collecting rent from tenants is “online rent payment“. With online rent payment, there is no paper rent check – payments go directly from a tenant’s bank account to the landlord’s bank account. The beauty of online rent payment services is that there’s no checks in the mail to get delayed or lost. Even if the landlord is on an extended vacation (everyone’s wish!), the deposit will occur.

One of the oldest and most trusted online rent payment services is ClearNow. For a small monthly fee relative to the rent collected, landlords save time, collect rent faster (in 3 business days the funds are usable), and issues with lost or delayed mail are a distant memory. A landlord can enroll with ClearNow at

The Best Online Rent Payment Services

Using online rent payment is one of the best things a landlord or property manager can do. As explained in a MySmartMove blog post, online rent payment can decrease late payments, save you and your tenants time, and prevent mail fraud.

Are all online rent payment services the same? The short answer is “no”.

Landords and tenants today have a ton of choice when it comes to collecting and paying rent online. The selection of online rent payment options is vast and can range from a very simple money transfer app to full service property management software. Some services are free while others have a sizeable monthly fee. Each option comes with varying bells and whistles. Considerations such as cost, simplicity, and support play a role in determining the best solution for landlords and their tenants.

We’ll take a look at the best options and point out how online rent payment services are not all the same. Let’s get started . . . .

Summary of the Best Online Rent Payment Services

ServicePros and Cons
ClearNow+ Focused online rent payment service
+ In business since 2000 with an “A+” BBB rating
+ $14.95/mo for one tenant. $2/mo each additional tenant. Rent payments received in 3 business days.
+ Email and phone customer support
+ Tenants can build credit history for paying rent
+ Enroll at
Cozy+ Focused online rent payment service
+ Website transitioning to in mid-2021. At some later point, website will cease.
+ $2.99/mo for each tenant processed for 3 business day processing
+ Email only customer support
+ Tenant rent payments no longer reported to Experian credit bureau
+ Enroll at
RentPayment+ Focused online rent payment service
+ Company sold in 2020. Now a subsidiary of MRI Software.
+ Pricing depends on volume. Need to speak to sales. Targets larger apartment complex with pricing tool.
+ Chat and ticket support
+ Enroll at
PayPal+ General money transfer service
+ Both tenant and landlord have to have PayPal accounts.
+ Same day transfer times
+ Pricing is similar to credit card fees (about 3% of the amount transferred)
+ Enroll at
Zelle+ General money transfer service
+ Same day transfer times
+ Tenant and landlord have to have bank accounts on the Zelle network.
+ Tenants can make partial payments.
+ Pricing is free for users with Zelle accounts. Zelle may limit total amounts that can be transferred.
+ Enroll through a bank that is part of the Zelle network.
Buildium+ Full service property management software – more features than just online rent payment
+ Pricing starts at $50/mo. There is an additional $99 one-time fee for online rent payment and a $1/payment fee.
+ Knowledge base support and telephone number for sales
+ Does not allow tenants to build credit history
+ Enroll at
Rentec Direct+ Full service property management software – more features than just online rent payment
+ Pricing starts at $35/mo
+ Telephone customer support
+ Does not allow tenants to build credit history
+ Enroll at

A Detailed Look at the Best Online Rent Payment Services

ClearNow: ClearNow is a focused online rent payment service. Serving landlords and tenants since 2000, ClearNow will directly deposit funds three banking days after the tenant’s debit day. For a monthly debit, ClearNow starts at $14.95/month. This fee includes the debit of one tenant. Additional tenants are $2/month.

Unique among all online rent payment services, ClearNow has an owner proceeds feature where property management companies can directly deposit tenant funds to the property owner’s bank account for just an additional $2/tenant.

Beyond online rent payment, ClearNow provides landlords with various reports including a Schedule E Helper report for tax time. With ClearNow, landlords can record income and expenses, screen tenants, and esign leases. In 2011, ClearNow was the first online rent payment service to allow tenants to report payments to Experian. So tenants can build a credit history with their ClearNow rent payments. Unlike other services like Cozy or, ClearNow provides telephone and email support, so you can talk with a person if you wish.

Cozy (soon Online rent payments from checking accounts are free with Cozy, but landlords have to wait 5 business days to receive funds. Landlords can pay $2.99 per tenant per month to reduce the wait to 3 business days. Cozy offers other services like marketing rentals and maintenance requests. Unfortunately, Cozy has stopped rent reporting to Experian, so tenants using Cozy for online rent payments will not receive the benefit of building a credit history. And if you need any help, Cozy has a help center with articles (more like Q&A), or you can contact Cozy by email. Cozy does not offer any telephone assistance.

RentPayment: Similar to ClearNow and Cozy, RentPayment focuses primarily on streamlining rent collection. While they specifically address serving the largest property management companies, RentPayment is available to landlords, too. For 1 to 250 tenants, RentPayment charges $4.95/ACH transaction, 0.95% for debit cards, and 2.95% for credit cards. If you have more than 250 units, you’ll have to request a quote.

Like Cozy, RentPayment has been undergoing ownership changes. was sold in 2020 and is now a subsidiary of MRI Software. RentPayment’s customer support page emphasizes chat and support tickets for customer service.

PayPal: PayPal is a widely used online payment service, most famous initially as a payment method for successful Ebay auctions.

PayPal has an option called PayPal Invoicing where recurring payments can be processed. PayPal does, however, charge for this service – close to 3% of the amount processed. On a $2,000/mo rent, a landlord may pay almost $60 to receive one rent via PayPal. PayPal transfers can occur quickly – though PayPal does sometimes hold onto funds a little longer before a business can move it out of their PayPal account and to their bank account.

Zelle: Technically considered a money transfer app, Zelle enables tenants to transfer rent payment directly to the landlord’s bank account. Zelle requires both landlord and tenant to have a bank account that is part of the Zelle network. Generally speaking, money transfers occur within minutes, and generally Zelle does not charge sender or receiver (some Zelle banks do charge small businesses).

While fast and free, some landlords may not prefer Zelle as a method of rent payment. Tenants initiate the payment and may not pay rent in full thus making it difficult to recoup the full amount due or even evict if necessary. Some states prevent eviction if partial payments are made.

Additionally, depending on your bank, Zelle may limit transfers to $1,000/day or $5,000/mo.

Buildium: Considered full service property management software, Buildium provides landlords with a spectrum of tools to manage rentals, including record keeping, maintenance requests, and online rent payments.

Unlike Zelle, Buildium is not free. Buildium offers three packages with the lowest package starting at $50/month. All packages have an online rent payment feature. After an initial one-time $99 application fee for online payments, landlords are charged $1.00 per transaction to receive funds for the lowest priced package. Transactions to receive funds are waived for the more expensive packages which start at $160/month and $460/month, respectively.

Rentec Direct: Similar to Buildium, Rentec Direct is full service property management software that includes online rent payments. Starting at $35/month, Rentec Direct offers two products depending on if you are a property owner or a property management company. The monthly cost is based on the number of units managed. Both products include online rent payments for no additional cost.

In addition to online rent payments, Rentec Direct enables landlords to screen tenants, manage maintenance requests, and synchronize financial data with QuickBooks.


If you are a landlord with a few properties, Buildium and Rentec Direct may be overkill because of their higher fees. In addition to cost, Buildium and Rentec Direct do not furnish rent payment data to credit bureaus to help tenants build a credit history. Credit reporting is a bonus for tenants paying rent online.

Landlords who question the value of full service property management software may lean towards a service with a focus on online rent payment, like ClearNow, Cozy, or

There is a lot of choice for online rent payments, and each choice has its pros and cons for landlords and tenants. For someone new to online rent payments, some important things to consider beyond price and customer support options are (a) how long will it take to get my funds, (b) how long has this company been in business and what are their reviews, and (c) how do my tenants benefit from this service.

Cozy Ends Rent Reporting to Experian. ClearNow allows Rent Reporting to Experian.

Cozy recently announced that renters who use its online rent payment service will no longer be able to report their rent payments to Experian.

At ClearNow, we’re puzzled why any online rent payment service would end something so beneficial; so many tenants are looking to build credit history. We’ve long believed in the power of rent to build credit history. In 2011, ClearNow was the first online rent payment service to allow renters to report payments to Experian. Unlike Cozy, we have no plans to ever stop offering this valuable service.

For tenants who are interested in reporting their rent payments to a big 3 credit bureau, ask your landlord to sign up for online rent payment with ClearNow at Your rent payments should help you build your credit history.

Easy Owner Disbursements of Rent Payment

Every property manager needs to collect rent from tenants and then send those rent payments – less property management fees and other incidental charges – to the property owners. These fund transfers of collected rent to the property owners are known as “owner proceeds” or “owner disbursements”.

ClearNow has long made collecting online rent payments from tenants easy and automatic. Less well known is that ClearNow has a unique capability in the online rent payment industry: We can also directly deposit owner disbursements to property owners. Automating these fund transfers makes your life as a property manager so much easier and allows your customers, the property owners, to get their funds quickly.

We are happy to announce that we have adapted the same all online process (complete with esignatures and bank document uploads) that our landlords and property managers use to enroll tenants to now apply to property owners. Property owners enroll completely online. There is no need anymore for paper, printers, or delays.

With ClearNow, property managers just log into their ClearNow account, click ‘Add Owners’, provide property owner’s name and email address, and click ‘Send Email.’ The property owner will receive an email explaining how they can provide their information and esign to have rent payments directly deposited to their bank account. As the property manager, you don’t even see the property owner’s bank account information, which provides an extra measure of privacy and security for your property owner customer.

Finally, when the property owner completes their part, you will be able to set up a simple formula that allows you to keep a dollar amount or percentage of rent from a tenant’s online rent payment. The remainder of those funds is directly deposited to your property owner’s bank account three banking days after the tenant’s debit day.

To get started using ClearNow for this valuable feature and learn how affordable it is (hint: $2 a payment!), visit ClearNow.

eSignToday – Pay Only $0.50 for an Esignature

ClearNow has introduced a simple and affordable esignature tool, eSignToday (  Now you can get your leases or any document esigned for just $0.50 a signature.  There are no monthly subscriptions.

Over our many years of working with landlords, we have received feedback on what would make their lives easier.  Beyond online rent payments, easy lease signing was another popular request.  Because leases are specific to each landlord, we needed to make signing easy while preserving the uniqueness of each lease.  In addition, we wanted to apply what we have learned with ClearNow’s online rent payments where the best tools are (a) mobile friendly, (b) easy to use, and (c) a time saver.  Last but not least, the VERY BEST tools are affordable.

Esignatures are the solution for easy signing as anyone can sign while on the move . . . on a phone, tablet, or laptop.  Esignatures eliminate printers, paper, and delays.  The problem with most esignature tools is that they are not affordable as many of them (e.g. Docusign, Adobe Sign) require a monthly subscription.  So if you only need one or two signatures a month, paying $10/month or more is overkill.    

There is no monthly subscription with eSignToday.  Instead, you pay $0.50 for each signature you need.  That’s it.

eSignToday is available to anyone who needs a document signed, and it’s easy to use:

  1. Set up a free account at
  2. Upload your document
  3. Email the document to each person who needs to sign it
  4. View a fully signed document where all signatures appear on the last page.

How to Screen Potential Tenants

Landlords using ClearNow to collect online rent payments now have access to a powerful and FREE tenant screening service.  We believe SmartMove is superior to most other tenant screening services for a few reasons:

  • It is FREE to you. Rental applicants pay a fee when they submit their credit report to you.
  • Designed for landlords. Easy to use, no site inspection, and no paperwork.
  • You will receive a complete report in seconds. Credit score, criminal background check, and an eviction report are presented in a straightforward recommendation.

Getting Started is Quick and Easy

  1. Set up your tenant screening account here.  Once set up, you will add your rental property address along with the applicant’s contact information and indicate if you or the applicant will pay the fee (via credit card).  Most landlords have the applicant cover the fee as part of the application process.
  2. The applicant authorizes screening.
  3. Almost instantly, you will receive the applicant’s complete report so you can make a decision. It is that simple!

Why Tenant Screening is Useful

Tenant screening is useful for landlords because it provides insight into the type of tenant an individual might be before committing them to a lease. Tenant screening with TransUnion’s SmartMove, enables landlords to learn more about a tenant’s background through their credit score, criminal background check, and eviction report.

How do I Handle a Month to Month Lease?

You may enroll a tenant on a month-to-month lease the same way you would enroll any other tenant. After your tenant completes the online enrollment agreement, they’ll receive an email entitled “One More Step”, which will contain a link asking your tenant to upload their bank documentation directly to ClearNow. This security measure further simplifies our enrollment process and eliminates the need to attach a separate file in an email.

Once we process their materials, they will be added to your account, and you will receive an email instructing you to set their rent amount and lease end date. When you input the lease end date, we recommend you set it for three to six months out so you don’t have to log in every month and extend the date. Should the tenant vacate in advance of the date you set, you will then need to unenroll the tenant from ClearNow.

We also suggest that you explain to your tenant why you set the lease end date as you decide since we will notify your tenant of the lease end date as it is set in ClearNow.

Can You Retroactively Debit a Tenant After I Update Their Lease End Date?

No. ClearNow is not able to retroactively debit your tenant’s bank account due to an expired lease end date. You will need to make arrangements with your tenant to have them pay their rent directly to you for any payment period that was missed.  Once you have entered their new lease end date, their debits will automatically resume for the next payment period.