In this article:
Searching for a house or apartment to rent is exciting, but as with many of life's big expenses, your credit score can make a difference in whether you get approved for the rental property you want. When you apply to rent an apartment or house, the landlord will want evidence that you can afford the rent and will pay it on time as agreed. It may not be required, but having positive credit can help you qualify for the apartment of your dreams.
What Do You Need to Rent an Apartment?
Landlords consider several factors before accepting you as a tenant. To help make their decision, they'll typically use the following information.
- Income: You'll generally need a gross monthly income equal to three to four times the amount of the monthly rent. For example, to rent an apartment for $1,200 per month, you'd need a gross monthly income of $3,600 to $4,800. Use pay stubs, W2 tax forms or bank statements to document your income. If you're looking for apartments and starting a new job soon, ask the employer for a letter confirming your start date and salary.
- Credit report and credit score: The landlord can check your credit report and credit score, looking for a history of on-time payments and red flags such as past-due accounts, accounts in collections and bankruptcies. They'll also consider your monthly debt and whether your income is sufficient to handle it and still pay the rent.
- Tenant screening report: Landlords aren't required to report rent payments to credit reporting bureaus, but some do. To review your rental history, landlords typically use tenant screening reports that provide background information on rent payment history, evictions, unpaid rent, broken leases or other indicators of your desirability as a tenant.
- Personal identification: Landlords need personal data such as your name, birthdate, current and previous addresses and contact information, as well as identification so they know you are who you say you are.
How to Check Your Credit Before Renting an Apartment
There's no set credit score necessary to rent an apartment or house; the criteria for approval will vary depending on the property, location, landlord and other factors. However, knowing your credit score before you start apartment-hunting can help you zero in on properties you may qualify to rent.
Get a free copy of your credit report and review it for accuracy. You can also check your credit score for free to see where you stand. Here's how credit scores rank in the popular FICO® Score☉ model:
- Exceptional: 800 to 850
- Very good: 740 to 799
- Good: 670 to 739
- Fair: 580 to 669
- Very poor: 300 to 579
If your score is good to exceptional, you can start your apartment search with confidence. A poor or fair credit score won't necessarily keep you from renting; you'll just need to approach it differently. For example, you may have more success with independent landlords than with management companies of large properties.
Options for Renting an Apartment When You Have Bad or No Credit
The following tactics can help you rent a house or apartment with poor credit or no credit history.
- Establish or improve your credit. If you don't need the apartment right away, spend a few months building a credit history or improving your credit. Signing up for Experian Boost®ø, a free service that reports utility, phone and streaming service payments to credit bureaus, can help establish credit or increase your FICO® Score. Other quick ways to establish a credit history include applying for a secured credit card, becoming an authorized user on the credit card of a family member with good credit, or applying for a credit-builder loan—and paying all those bills on time. To help improve your credit score, bring any past-due accounts current, keep paying your bills on time, pay down debt and avoid applying for new credit, which can cause a temporary drop in your credit score.
- Consider a cosigner. Asking a close friend or family member with good credit to cosign the lease with you can help you secure an apartment that would otherwise be out of reach. By cosigning, they promise to pay the rent if you can't—so don't leave them in the lurch, or your relationship as well as your credit score may suffer. Before you have them sign, work out a plan for what happens in the case that you can't pay your rent.
- Find a roommate. One or more roommates with good credit can overcome your less-than-perfect credit, as long as you ask the landlord to check the roommate's credit first. You can also look for someone already renting and seeking a roommate. Depending on their situation, you may not need to be added to the lease or undergo a credit check.
- Get references. Ask former landlords, employers or business associates for letters of recommendation you can use to prove your reliability.
- Demonstrate your rental payment history. If you've previously rented but your landlord didn't report your payments to credit bureaus, use bank statements or rent receipts to show you paid rent regularly.
- Pay more upfront. Some landlords accept tenants with poor credit if they pay a bigger security deposit. Paying a few months' rent upfront can ease the landlord's concerns and give you a cushion if you have financial difficulties.
- Offer more proof of income. If you have a thin credit file, providing pay stubs for the past six to 12 months (instead of just a few weeks) may give a landlord confidence in your ability to pay.
- Ask for a shorter lease or go month-to-month. A three-month lease or month-to-month arrangement means landlords can more easily replace you if you can't pay, which may make them more willing to rent to you.
- Consider a long-term Airbnb rental. Many Airbnb properties can be rented on a monthly basis. If you book a reservation lasting 28 nights or more, you'll be charged a down payment for the first month; the rest will be collected in monthly installments. Bonus: Airbnb rentals are furnished, utilities are included, and you can even pay with a credit card.
Use Your Rent Payments to Boost Your Credit Score
Once you've signed the rental lease, having your landlord report your rent payments to credit bureaus can help you establish credit or improve your credit score. If your landlord doesn't already do this, see if you can convince them to start, or if they will let you pay via a rent payment service that works with Experian RentBureau.
Finally, be sure to make your rent payments on time and comply with the rules of your lease. Being a model tenant will make it easier to qualify for an apartment or house the next time you want to move.