Does Breaking a Lease Affect Your Credit?

By Sean Bryant
Published on: 04/02/2019

Summary and Key Takeaways

  • While breaking a lease doesn't directly impact your credit history, landlords have several options for reporting the break.
  • If a landlord takes you to a small claims court or hires a collection agency, these factors may end up on your credit report.
  • If you have to break your lease, there are better ways to do it. Try talking to your landlord to work something out or consider finding a sublet.

An apartment lease is a commitment to pay a set amount of money each month until the lease expires. But sometimes your situation changes and you might want to break your lease.

In this article, we'll cover the reasons you'd break your lease, the pros and cons of breaking your apartment lease early, and how to break your lease without damaging your credit.

Jump to: Why break a lease? | Immediate impact on credit | Long-term risks | Break your lease without hurting your credit

Why would you want to break your lease?

There are many reasons why you might consider breaking your lease.

Relocating for work

If you’re relocating for a job, you might want to avoid paying rent on two different homes. Sometimes your company will cover relocation expenses, which could include your old lease payments, but that’s not always the case.

Buying your own home

You might also decide it’s time to buy a home of your own. This usually doesn’t align with the end of your lease. Unless you plan to cover two housing payments, you might consider walking away from the lease.

Your rent is no longer affordable

Another common reason is when the rent payment becomes unaffordable. This can happen suddenly if you suffer a job loss and your income is significantly reduced.

Before we talk about the ways you could get out of a lease without impacting your credit, first consider the impact if you don’t get your “ducks in a row” first.

Broken lease impact on your credit

When you own a home and have a mortgage, lenders report credit payment activity to credit agencies.

The same is not always true when you’re a renter. Some large rental agencies report rent activity each month. But it’s more common that the only time your landlord or property manager would report to the three credit bureaus is when you quit making payments. So, does breaking a lease hurt your credit?

“Breaking a lease does not automatically affect a tenant's credit. Most states require the landlord to conduct best efforts to re-lease the apartment.” says Dan Tenenbaum, chair of the California Apartment Association, Los Angeles advisory board.

While there isn't a direct impact on your credit history by breaking a lease, landlords have several options for reporting the break. Each option can impact your credit score, including:

Hiring a collections agency. When it comes to hiring a collections agency, it would then be their responsibility for collecting the outstanding balance on your lease.

Taking you to small claims court. This could result in a lengthy legal battle.

Either of these options could end up on your credit report and could lower your credit score significantly.

“Many home lenders and apartment owners would weigh unpaid rent balances more heavily than other types of debt. Tenants need to be careful and minimize the impact on their credit,” Tenenbaum says.

What are the long-term risks of breaking a lease?

There is a less obvious risk of breaking a lease early and having collections or a small claim appear on your credit report. That risk is how your reliability may be viewed in future situations that are important to you.

Getting a job

Most employers pull your credit report as part of a background check in the hiring process. The credit report allows them to get a good sense of your financial situation.

While they won’t be able to see your credit score, they will be able to see past negative marks on your report. Some employers take credit history into consideration for applicants, especially for a position in the financial or accounting sector.

Leasing your next home

Credit checks for landlords may be a priority when they consider you as a tenant. Many potential landlords may do a credit check in addition to a background check. The credit report helps them decide whether you will be able to keep up with payments.

If you’ve broken a lease in the past, future landlords will see you as a potential risk.

How to break a lease without damaging your credit

The reasons for breaking a rental lease can often be justified. But to eliminate the potential negative effects, you need to do it the right way. Here are a few ways to break a lease without it damaging your credit score.

1. Talk to your landlord

The very first thing you should do when you need to get out of your rental lease is to talk to your landlord or property manager. Explain the situation and see if you can work something out. If you’ve been a respectful tenant who pays rent on time, there’s a good chance your landlord might be willing to give you a break.

2. Find a sublet

Many rental agreements give you the option to find a sublet. A subletter will take over and fulfill the remainder of your lease term.

Check your lease agreement and see if it mentions a subletting option. If there is a sublet option, you may have to pay a small fee to use that option. The sublet fee covers the costs involved in running a background check on potential sublessees.

If you decide to try subletting the home, ask your landlord if the new tenant can put down their own security deposit. That way you’re not responsible for anything that might happen before the current lease ends.

3. Thoroughly read the lease agreement

While you’re looking for language on subletting, look closely at the rest of the lease. Many leases include a section about early termination.

Early termination clauses exist because landlords know situations arise in which their tenants need to move, breaking their lease early. Early lease termination clauses often require giving your landlord a proper written warning before leaving.

If you must break your lease, do it the right way

If you’re in a position where breaking your lease is unavoidable, it’s not the end of the world. There are almost always options available that can allow you to minimize the financial impact, especially in regards to your credit score.

The worst thing you can do is walk away doing nothing. If you have been working hard to build your credit score work with your landlord to come up with a solution so you can minimize – or avoid entirely – the negative impact on your credit history. If you are interested in building or repairing your credit score, consider getting a credit builder loan and read more about important credit score factors.

About the author

Sean Bryant is a Denver-based freelance writer specializing in personal finance, credit cards and travel. With nearly 10 years of writing experience, his work has appeared in many of the industry's top publications. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. He also runs OneSmartDollar.com.

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Written on April 2, 2019
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