If you’re apartment hunting with a low credit score, you may already know how difficult it can be to rent with bad credit, meaning you have negative information in your payment history, you don’t have a good credit score, or a combination of both. Most landlords perform credit checks on their renters and associate good credit with a responsible tenant, so a potential landlord could reject a prospective tenant based on a poor credit score.
In this guide, we explain the minimum credit requirements to rent an apartment, ways to rent with bad credit and what landlords look for in your credit report when assessing your rental application, as well as strategies to help you find a home no matter what your credit score is.
If your credit score is in the “fair” credit score range by FICO®’s standards (from 580 to 669), prospective landlords may take a closer look at your credit report, to get a better sense of your credit history and credit habits.
However, landlords consider more than just a credit score when evaluating prospective tenants, and if they have a cutoff for what an acceptable credit score can be, that number depends on the discretion of the individual landlord or property management company.
While landlords may use the FICO® credit scoring model to help inform their decisions, each landlord has their own way of determining the level of risk of a tenant, so there is no set credit score to determine if you qualify to rent. The monthly rent payment, state of the real estate market and your income are also factors.
If you have bad credit or a credit score that falls below a prospective landlord’s minimum, you may still be able to rent if you can show you’ll be a good tenant. Here are some strategies to try that may make up for a poor credit score.
Reference letters from previous landlords or property management companies act as letters of recommendation and may help you provide credible proof of positive rental history and that you’ve been making your rent payments on time.
Landlords consider your income to ensure that you have sufficient means to pay rent each month and on time. Providing proof of your income, like recent pay stubs, W-2 tax forms or bank statements, may help you convince potential landlords that you can pay fully and on time.
Experian Boost® is a free service that adds qualifying bill payments, like utility bills and streaming services, to your Experian credit report. While not all bills are eligible, if you’ve paid boost-eligible bills on time consistently, adding them can help raise your FICO® 8 Score immediately.
Results may vary because of your individual financial situation and the fact that this tool only affects your Experian credit report and FICO® 8 credit score. So if your lender uses credit reports prepared by the other two major credit bureaus, TransUnion and Equifax, or a different scoring model, your report and score may not be affected.
To use Experian Boost®, you’ll need to have:
If you’re struggling with your credit, you may want to consider a cosigner. A cosigner is someone who signs the lease of a new apartment with you and has equal liability for paying rent. They may live with you under the lease. A cosigner with good credit and payment history may help increase your approval odds.
You may also want to consider a guarantor, someone who can vouch for you financially and cover your rent payments in the event that you can’t. Guarantors aren’t entitled to live with you but are legally required to pay the rent if you don’t. Typically, guarantors have a good credit history. Renters often ask a close friend or family member to be a guarantor.
Whether you obtain a cosigner or guarantor, if you miss a rent payment, the financial responsibility for the payment will fall on them. Late or missed payments may affect their credit score in addition to yours if the landlord reports the rent to the credit bureaus.
If none of the options above are possible for you, here are some other routes you can take if you’re trying to rent with bad credit.
If you have a poor credit score or have had recent troubles with your personal finances, such as a sudden, short-term job loss that caused you to run up credit card debt, it may be easier to try to explain your current financial situation to your potential landlord. Because every situation is unique, landlords may be willing to listen and work with you. Be sure to prepare any documentation needed to support your claim, as well as some to show that you can be financially responsible too.
Applying for an apartment that doesn’t require credit checks may give you a better chance of approval because landlords aren’t reviewing your credit. Instead, landlords will look at your income, debt-to-income ratio, past bankruptcies, delinquencies or criminal history.
But be careful — no-credit-check apartments may have higher upfront fees or confusing lease agreement terms. So read your lease agreement to be sure you understand all of the terms, can determine that the lease is fair, and check out the apartment to inspect for safety issues that may be a concern you need the landlord to address before you sign.
Private landlords are individual property owners who choose to lease out their properties themselves instead of leasing through a property management company. Private landlords are usually more flexible and have fewer restrictions as compared to large property managers.
Paying a larger security deposit may help make a good impression on your landlord. Paying more upfront may show that you’re financially committed to renting. Keeping your rent payments paid ahead of time may also help. Just be sure that you don’t overextend yourself financially so you don’t put yourself at risk of missing payments on other financial obligations.
The federal government offers a program for assisting very low-income families, people with disabilities and the elderly to afford housing. To qualify, you’ll need to be eligible for a housing voucher and then you’ll be placed on a waiting list.
Similar to a credit lender, landlords use your credit report to assess your ability to pay according to the terms you’ve agreed to. They tend to look at these risk factors in your credit report:
In some cases, landlords may use tenant-screening services or rental-specific credit scores to approve applicants.
One of the best ways to understand what a potential landlord sees on your credit report is by checking your credit report yourself. By law, you can check your credit report once per year for free from each of the major credit bureaus by requesting copies online through AnnualCreditReport.com. Because of the COVID pandemic, however, through the end of 2023, you can continue to get a free weekly credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Experian allows a free credit score as well.
Landlords look at more than just your credit score when deciding if you’ll be a good tenant. Some other factors they consider include:
If you have bad credit or no credit and want to raise your credit score, you can get started today. Try Self’s credit-building tools to help at any stage of your credit-building journey, and get yourself back on the right track.
Disclaimer: FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.
Ana Gonzalez-Ribeiro, MBA, AFC® is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and a Bilingual Personal Finance Writer and Educator dedicated to helping populations that need financial literacy and counseling. Her informative articles have been published in various news outlets and websites including Huffington Post, Fidelity, Fox Business News, MSN and Yahoo Finance. She also founded the personal financial and motivational site www.AcetheJourney.com and translated into Spanish the book, Financial Advice for Blue Collar America by Kathryn B. Hauer, CFP. Ana teaches Spanish or English personal finance courses on behalf of the W!SE (Working In Support of Education) program has taught workshops for nonprofits in NYC.
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