We all need a place to live, and your prospective landlord can use your credit score to decide whether or not to approve your rental application.
According to the latest Housing Vacancy Survey by America’s Rental Housing 2022 report, the number of renter households climbed by more than 870,000, to a total of 44 million or approximately 35% of U.S. households.
Look for an apartment that doesn’t require a credit check
If you have bad credit, which is a score between 300 and 579, you may have trouble renting an apartment, especially if you live in a city where credit checks are a part of the rental process.
Find a co-signer
A co-signer is a person who is obligated to pay back the loan just as you, the borrower, are obligated to pay. A co-signer could be your spouse, a parent, or a friend. A co-signer reduces the risk for landlords, but be sure you and your co-signer understand the risks.
The most significant risk for a co-signer is that it is not just about lending one’s good credit reputation to help someone else. The co-signer promises to pay any debt obligations, including any late fees or collection costs, if one party cannot do so. If these debts remain unpaid, it will affect the co-signer’s credit directly. So, any default payments mean the co-signer is on the hook. Another downside to cosigning a lease is increasing their debt-to-income ratio. A high debt-to-income ratio can hurt the co-signer if they want to take out a loan, apply for a mortgage or sign a new lease for themselves.
Once a co-signer has signed on the dotted line, they can’t get out of the contract until the lease has expired or if the leaseholder decides to end the lease and create a new account solely under their name.
Use a guarantor
A guarantor works similarly to a co-signer but has fewer rights because a guarantor has less financial responsibility than a co-signer. The most crucial difference between a co-signer and a guarantor is that a co-signer is immediately responsible for paying rent, just as the tenant is. A guarantor is only responsible for paying rent when the tenant fails to make the payments themselves.
Consider getting a roommate
If the person can cover rent payments on their income, your landlord may be more willing to consider your application. Getting a roommate will boost the income requirements and give you a better chance of gaining landlord approval.
Ask previous landlords, employers, or professors to write references.
Provide proof of payment history, including last rent payments, utilities, and other bills.
Your landlord reference letter on letterhead should include:
- The date your landlord wrote the letter
- Your name, address, and email or phone number
- The address of the property the tenant rented
- The dates of the tenancy
- Any lease violations, such as late rent payments, if any
- Information about the tenant’s reliability, including late rent payments or lease violations
- Whether or not the tenant maintained the rental property
- Any pet violations or positive pet experiences
- Landlord’s signature and complete contact information for verification purposes
Make sure you meet the standard income requirement
The standard income requirement usually means you’ll need to earn at least three times the expected rent. In tight markets like NYC and San Francisco, landlords require 40 times the monthly rent. If you are using a guarantor, they will need to be 80-100 times the monthly rent. The higher multiples are due to the guarantor having their expenses to cover along with yours, in the event you cannot pay.
Offer to pay more upfront
You can offer to pay more in the form of a larger security deposit, or for international students in New York City, offering a year upfront in rent plus a 6-month security deposit will sometimes do the trick. Paying more will show the landlord that you intend to make your payments as scheduled and gives them some added protection.
Be willing to settle for less
Because of your less-than-stellar credit, you will need to be flexible with smaller landlords. In turn, you may need to consider less exclusive properties and direct owner rentals in less desirable neighborhoods with longer commutes.
Avoid property management companies
Corporate or larger management companies are more likely to be rigid about rental requirements. Look for local management companies that focus on your city, or better yet, a direct landlord with the discretion of flexibility that corporate or larger management companies do not. According to the Landlord Statistics from the 2018 Rental Housing Finance Report, the day-to-day managers are the owners of 42.3% of all rental properties.
Seek out private listings
Many DIY or single-property landlords will be more flexible. Ask friends and family for leads. It may make things easier if you have someone who knows the landlord and will vouch for you. Get on sites like hotpads.com, Craigslist, byowner.com, or apartmentlist.com if you are looking for properties for rent by the owner.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., are all great ways to find private landlords. Joining local groups for property or even general groups is a great way to find property in your area rented by a private landlord. There are thousands of landlords out there trying to get their property on every platform they can, and since social media is free, most will freely plaster their rental all over every single platform, searching for tenants.
Get all of your paperwork in order
Have it all ready to go so that you’re prepared if you need to make your case:
- Copies of a minimum of three recent pay stubs
- An employment verification letter
- Reference letters (for you and your pets)
- Bank statements (black out any critical information)
- Proof of identity
- Documentation of previous rental history that you are in good standing and length of tenancy
What credit score do you need to rent an apartment?
Rental companies prefer applicants with FICO scores of at least 620. However, they will rent to people whose scores are slightly lower if they agree to pay a higher security deposit, have a co-signer, or meet other criteria.
If your score is in the low 500s, you would be considered a high-risk renter, and getting approved for a lease could be tricky. But combining the strategies listed here can make you a more enticing renter.
What do landlords look for when checking your credit?
Most credit checks include the following:
- Rental history
- Payment history
- How much money do you owe?
- What kind of outstanding loans do you have?
- Have you declared bankruptcy? How long ago?
In addition to what they find in your credit report, a landlord will also learn the following details about you:
- Current name and any other names you might have used
- Current and previous addresses
- Current and previous employers
- Your credit score and credit history
- Your credit accounts and payment history with lenders
- Public records like bankruptcies, evictions, and tax liens
- All credit inquiries and applications for the last two years
READ MORE: How to improve your credit score in 26 steps
Before renting an apartment
Here are some steps to take:
- Make sure your credit report is accurate: Get copies of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, through annualcreditreport.com or Credit Karma. Also, know your credit score. If you find any mistakes on your credit report, fix them immediately.
- If you owe money to creditors or lenders, make sure that all of your payments are on time.
- If you don’t need to rent immediately, consider a credit-builder loan.
- Check your renter reports: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) helps ensure that the information landlords get about you is accurate. These include the AmRent report and TransUnion SmartMove report. Review them to ensure that they’re error-free.
- Do you have a criminal history? An excellent place to find out what resources are available in your area is to contact local nonprofits who help with rehousing individuals. They might have a program you can take advantage of.
- Have you been evicted in the past? Having an eviction record can be a big red flag for landlords.
- Sign up for a credit-building service like Experian Boost, which helps you build your credit score by making standard monthly payments on time.
Assess your financial situation
Moving comes with extra expenses. Make sure you can afford them in addition to your rent. Extra expenses include:
- Pet deposits and additional rent to cover pets
- Utility deposit
- Moving expenses
- Buying furniture and supplies (second-hand shops, dollar stores, looking on Craigslist for the free stuff can help with this)
It’s also worth considering the other monthly costs you’ll have to pay:
- Renter’s insurance (it’s likely required)
- Electricity, water, sewer, gas, pest control, trash (are they included in your rent or not?)
- Cable TV or streaming services
- Phone (some landlords require landlines in case of emergencies)
- Gas and other transportation costs
The bottom line
Your credit score will affect your ability or ease of finding a place to live. You must stay on top of your credit scores and monitor their health.
For those who have dings, it will undoubtedly limit your choices, but finding a place to live won’t be impossible. Flexibility and creativity with your unique situation will be critical.
There are some lenders that market specifically to people with lower credit scores. Some auto lenders allow you to apply with a co-applicant or offer features such as interest rate reduction discounts or the ability to use for prequalification.
Prestige Financial is suitable for those who have filed for bankruptcy. Autopay is an online marketplace that can connect you with multiple auto lenders to shop around from. New Roads, the direct lending division of Consumer Portfolio Services Inc., offers interest rate discounts on specific certified pre-owned and new-car models that can reduce interest charges.
The right credit card for most people with bad credit will be a secured card. It is where you put down a security deposit equal to the line of credit you’re seeking or apply for an unsecured credit card designed for those with poor credit. Secured credit cards charge the lowest fees and offer the best approval odds.
You’re entitled to your credit scores. Credit reports are what lenders use to determine your eligibility and worthiness as a borrower. These reports dictate the loan rates, amounts, and terms. Sometimes there’s a cost associated with obtaining your credit score, but you can often access it for free when you sign up for an account with the credit-reporting agency.
Your bank, credit union, or credit card issuer may also offer a free credit score tool. On AnnualCreditReport.com, you are entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. These agencies include Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.