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Story by JPMorgan — Chase Wants to Simplify Your Rent Payments

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If you’re a renter, JPMorgan Chase is coming for your checkbook. The banking and investment giant is piloting a new platform that allows property owners to bill and accept payment digitally.

That’s good news if you, like many renters, only keep a checkbook because you have to pay rent. It may be even better news for the millions of owners and managers who operate properties with fewer than 100 units. The company’s commercial banking chief innovation officer, Sam Yen, told CNBC the platform automates invoicing and payment collections, allowing ye old landlords and ladies to focus on the things that makes your tenants happy, like fixing their broken stuff.

The platform, called Story, aims to be an all-in-one property management solution. The space is far from competition-free, but so far, no app reigns supreme. So there’s room for JPMorgan to shake things up if they can speak to the unique needs of rental property owners. And Yen thinks some of Story’s features give JPMorgan an ace in the proverbial hole.

Story by JPMorgan Offers Renters Familiar Options, Property Owners New Insights

Story is still in pilot testing, but you can peek under the hood online. It should be noted that because the program is still in testing, it’s still in development. And a lot could change by the time it’s out of the pilot stage. 

But from what I can see so far, the best thing about Story from a tenant’s perspective is that it’s nothing new. The interface looks a lot like any other payment platform you use, from your cellphone bill to your streaming platform.

Its sleek and modern user interface shows how much you owe and your payment history, including any past-due amounts. You can set up autopay using a linked bank account, credit or debit card, or e-check.

And that’s how a great payment gateway should work. If anything about those is truly remarkable, it’s usually not for the better. 

Tenants can also see the details of the lease, info about the specific unit, and contact information for the property manager. 

What I don’t see is a place to request repairs or schedule or reschedule maintenance visits. You can send an email to the address in the contact info, but that’s not the same thing as a fully automated online system. 

And I think consumers expect to be able to fully interact with a business online these days. I know you always see on (primarily New York City-based) TV shows that renters should just be glad someone comes to fix things at all, but that’s not how it works IRL, at least not everywhere.

If JP Morgan wants to help property owners woo tenants, that may need to be on the to-do list if it’s not already.

But for some property owners, that may be a small price to pay given the treasure trove of available actions on their side of the dashboard. Yes, you can send invoices and receive payments. But since Story is built specifically for rental management, it can send reminders and late notices automatically, unlike old standbys like QuickBooks. And Excel can’t do any of that.

You can also see your various properties to manage individually as needed and manage individual tenants directly. You can even set up a new lease right in the dashboard. And if you have an existing property management tool, the company says you can import your existing data. 

Additionally, you can see your income and deposits for the month and overviews of your past-due bills and occupancy. 

But according to Yen, JP Morgan hopes to convert users by offering a deep-dive into the types of insights you can use to help grow your business, such as assistance setting rent prices, market analysis tools, and tenant-screening capabilities.

And it seems you don’t have to be an existing JPMorgan customer to use the platform, though I’m sure there are benefits to that being the case. It’s also unclear how much the platform ultimately costs or whether all those features come for a single payment or you have to pay extra for add-ons. 

Get in on the Pilot

According to a Nov. 1 story published in Globest.com’s TechCenter, the pilot is available in several states, including: 

  • California 
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts 
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington D.C.
  • Washington state
  • Wisconsin

The site doesn’t provide insight on how to sign up, but going to story.jpmorgan.com to show interest is probably a good first step.  

Additionally, the Globest.com claims you can get 12 months of free ACH, debit, and credit card payments. There’s no word on what it costs after the promotional period ends, but if you have a Chase account with an as yet undisclosed minimum balance, you can continue to get free ACH payments. 

You can also get up to 70% off the retail price for credit, criminal, or eviction screens through SmartMove TransUnion and access to an affordability calculator to find out if a new property you’re considering qualifies for loan rate discounts from Chase.

Story by JPMorgan Targets Small Business Owners — But Will It Work?

Larger property management firms have long utilized digital infrastructure to manage units and tenants. But it’s primarily been a game for the big guys. JPMorgan notes that 78% of us still pay rent using checks or money orders. 

The company says that’s because the market is highly fragmented, with most property owners running fewer than 100 units. I’d hazard a guess that the price you have to pay to get into the digital game also has something to do with it. And JPMorgan will have to contend with that if they want to corner the market — or even get a foothold. 

Property owners have to put up with all manner of profit creep, such as unexpected major repairs and tenants who don’t pay up. And having just come off a long period when they were legally prohibited from evicting tenants who didn’t pay bills means some are just recovering from dire straits — unless companies like JPMorgan put a moratorium on their mortgage payments too.

When you combine that with the fact that undercharging rent is one of the top mistakes listed for rental property owners on pretty much every list (and the surprising number of complaints on Reddit about property owners not cashing rent checks for literal years), you have to wonder how much anything else really plays a role. 

Is JPMorgan Story Right for My Investment Property? 

If you’re a property owner looking for a way to get out of the rent check collection and deposit game, you’ll have to wait until next year to get in on JPMorgan’s platform unless you’re lucky enough to get in on the pilot. There are other options available now, such as Buildium and TurboTenant. Both have free trials, and TurboTenant has a free version.

Even if you’re willing to wait, JPMorgan’s solution seems best for those with multiple properties to manage, though I’m sure they’ll take your money if you only have one. No word yet on whether there will be a free version, but even if there is, it probably won’t include the valuable insights to help you grow your business or whether those insights really help property owners make more money.

In the meantime, you can start with a free TurboTenant account to dip your toes in the water and get your tenants used to paying digitally. Just note that you probably still have to pay credit card or ACH processing fees to accept anything but checks. 

Is Online Payment Coming to an Apartment Complex Near You?

Maybe. But don’t hold your breath unless you live in a complex or home owned by a big company. I scrolled through answers from rental property owners on question-and-answer sites Reddit and Quora, and it seems there are a lot of them who aren’t on board with anything other than paper payments. 

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred a lot of other industries into the digital age, but this one’s still hanging tight to old traditions for various reasons.

Some cite state laws, typically having to do with evicting problem tenants and being able to reject a specific payment (which is harder once you’ve agreed to accept ongoing ACH or credit card payments). Whether that’s due to a misunderstanding of the law or just outdated or poorly written state laws is anyone’s guess. Either is a possibility, but if business owners believe it’s true, that’s all that matters.

Some also cite high credit card processing fees, fear of tenants reversing credit card charges and the resulting chargebacks, and even just a preference for doing things the old-fashioned way.

If you — the person who’s paying the rent — can’t convince them to change, it’s hard to imagine JPMorgan overcoming those objections without some serious benefits and a really affordable price.

My other half and I can’t even convince my mother-in-law to accept rent payments via Zelle, and ours is the only property she has left (for now). She likes the paper trail she gets from checks (and uses Excel to log the payments). 

It looks like the JPMorgan solution won’t roll out nationwide until at least 2023, assuming everything goes well with the pilot. But there are other solutions available now, and it can’t hurt to start dropping hints to the property manager now.

At the very least, you could try convincing them of the virtues of Zelle or e-checks. 

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