How to Rent an Apartment or House with Bad Credit

By Ana Gonzalez-Ribeiro, MBA, AFC®
Published on: 03/01/2023

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.

What is the minimum credit score to rent an apartment?

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.[1]

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.[1]

How to prepare to rent with bad credit

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.

Gather letters of reference

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.[2]

Gather proof of income documents

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.[3]

Find someone who is willing to cosign your lease

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.[4]

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.[4] 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.[5]

Applying for apartments with bad credit

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.

how to apply for apartments with bad credit

Discuss your financial situation with your prospective landlord

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.

Apply for a no-credit-check apartment

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.[6] Instead, landlords will look at your income, debt-to-income ratio, past bankruptcies, delinquencies or criminal history.[1]

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.[6]

Apply to an apartment with a private landlord

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.[7]

Consider offering a higher security deposit

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.[2] 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.

If you qualify, apply for the government’s housing choice program

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.[8]

What do landlords look for in your credit report?

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:

  • Payment history (35%): This factor influences your score the most. It reflects whether you make on-time payments in full or have a history of late payments.[9]
  • Amounts owed (30%): This factor is made up of the total amount of debt you owe on credit cards and loans, as well as your credit utilization rate (CUR), the total of your revolving debt balances divided by the total amount of your credit limits.[10]
  • Number of negative items: Landlords specifically look for negative events, like bankruptcies, evictions and delinquencies, on your credit report.[1]

In some cases, landlords may use tenant-screening services or rental-specific credit scores to approve applicants.[1]

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 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.[11]

What else do landlords look for in your application?

Landlords look at more than just your credit score when deciding if you’ll be a good tenant. Some other factors they consider include:

  • Recent criminal history: Individual landlords may deny a tenant based on criminal history, especially if it’s recent and involves dangerous or high-risk crimes.
  • Income history: Landlords check your income to ensure that you regularly maintain employment with enough income to pay your rent fully and on time.
  • Proof of employment: Landlords typically require that you offer proof that you are actively employed by asking for paystubs, bank statements, or W-2s.[12]

Looking to build your credit?

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.


  1. FICO. “What Do Landlords Look for in a Credit Check?” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  2. Experian. “How to Get Approved for an Apartment,” Accessed January 23, 2023.
  3. Experian. “What Do Landlords Look For in a Tenant?” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  4. Experian. “Can You Use a Cosigner to Get an Apartment?” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  5. Experian. “What Is a Cosigner?” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  6. Experian. “7 Tips for Renting an Apartment With No Credit,” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  7. Experian. “For Rent By Owner: The Pros and Cons of Renting from a Private Landlord,” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  8. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet,” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  9. FICO. “How Payment History Impacts Your Credit Score,” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  10. FICO. “How Owing Money Can Impact Your Credit Score,” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  11. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “How do I get a copy of my credit reports?” Accessed October 13, 2022.
  12. Experian. “How to Check Your Rental History Report,” Accessed October 13, 2022.

About the author

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 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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Our goal at Self is to provide readers with current and unbiased information on credit, financial health, and related topics. This content is based on research and other related articles from trusted sources. All content at Self is written by experienced contributors in the finance industry and reviewed by an accredited person(s).

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Written on March 1, 2023
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