Beware of Rent-A-Center and what it can do to your credit

"Anyone considering turning to Rent-A-Center for furniture and appliances should run—don’t walk—out of that store."

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Virginia real estate investor Olivia Quinn says she lost her mortgage because Rent-A-Center, the nation’s largest rent-to-own company, failed to correct her credit report. She had paid off her rented merchandise — twice.

Leroy Walton of Georgia settled his account with Rent-A-Center in 2013, his records show. But for years after, he says debt collectors pursued him, even threatening him with arrest.

Jessica Gonzalez’s federal lawsuit says she huddled with her two sons in a closet of her Florida home while a Rent-A-Center employee pounded on her house to collect money.

And Andrea Gorman told authorities that Rent-A-Center workers kicked in the front door of her Ohio home after she fell behind on payments.

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Thousands of Rent-A-Center customers across the United States are complaining in growing numbers of harassment and wrecked finances after leasing furniture, electronics or appliances from the $3 billion company.

Customers say their credit scores had been damaged unfairly and they were hounded by debt collectors after they settled their accounts. Many documented lengthy, unsuccessful attempts to get Rent-A-Center to correct its records, a joint investigation by NerdWallet and Raycom Media found.

Even Rent-A-Center shareholders have complained, filing a lawsuit against the company that argued shoddy record-keeping has damaged the business.

In most American industries, harassment over unpaid bills sets off alarms with regulators. But Rent-A-Center relies on exceptions carved out for the entire rent-to-own industry, allowing it to operate outside many consumer protection laws.

Ohio Attorney General/NerdWallet

The Federal Trade Commission, aware of the industry’s tactics, has warned about the risks of signing rent-to-own agreements.

At the state level, consumer advocates such as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine say the industry needs more regulation.

Anyone considering turning to Rent-A-Center for furniture and appliances should “run — don’t walk — out of that store. Get out of there,” DeWine says.

Rent-A-Center Payment Policy

Rent-A-Center, a publicly traded company based in Plano, Texas, rents TVs, couches, washers and dryers, and other items for weeks or months. Customers typically can terminate their leases at any time and return the goods, or pay until they own the items.

The company has two basic business models. It has more than 2,400 stores largely near low-income neighborhoods and military bases.

It also operates as Acceptance Now inside nearly 1,300 independently owned furniture stores, including Ashley Furniture and Rooms to Go. In those showrooms, customers pick out furniture they want but instead of buying it from the store, Acceptance Now buys it for them and leases it back to them, removing the store from any responsibility in disputes.

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Interviews by NerdWallet and Raycom and complaints to regulators show problems arise if a customer falls behind on rental payments. A missed payment can trigger aggressive responses by employees and touch off record-keeping errors, former employees told reporters.

Quinn and Walton missed payments, then caught up. But their accounts were not properly credited, their records show.

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