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Getting an apartment is, in some respects, like applying for a loan. Both processes involve decision-makers reviewing your personal information and financial history so they know they can trust you to be responsible and make your payments on time. In the case of an apartment, you're getting the stamp of approval from a landlord or property management company instead of a lender or bank.
To get approved for an apartment, you'll generally need to provide some kind of evidence that you're likely to make your rent payments. Your credit score and credit report often play a big role, as they give landlords a look at how well you've managed your debt accounts, but your income and employment status can be equally important. Read on for a comprehensive overview of how to get approved for an apartment.
Look for Apartments That Fit in Your Budget
Apartment hunting begins with understanding how much you can afford. The general rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30% of your gross (pretax) monthly income on rent. If, for example, you earn $6,000 per month before taxes, you should aim to keep your rent at or below $1,800.
Your landlord may use a similar calculation to determine what's called your rent-to-income ratio. The industry-standard calculation works like this: Divide your gross annual income by 12, then multiply that number by 0.3. The total represents your maximum monthly rent. By these standards, someone who earns $60,000 per year may not get approved on their own for a monthly rent payment that exceeds $1,500. Of course, your debts come into play too. If you've got large monthly payments in the way of student loans, credit cards or auto loans, you may have less wiggle room in your budget for rent. (More on this shortly.)
Once you've landed on a number that feels right, you can start searching for rental properties that fit in your budget. Many apartment-hunting sites allow you to filter by rent amount, which can help prevent you from applying for apartments you can't afford.
Check Your Credit Report and Score
Knowing what's on your credit report ahead of time can help you prepare for the application process. It's ideal to do so three to six months in advance so that, if necessary, you have time to address your risk factors and potentially improve your score before apartment hunting. Paying down debts, for instance, can increase your credit score and improve your odds of getting approved for an apartment.
When a landlord pulls your credit, they're looking for any information that may suggest you'd be a risky tenant. Negative credit information such as late payments, delinquent accounts, a lot of recent credit inquiries or a bankruptcy in your past can all work against you. You should also be prepared for a landlord to look over your tenant history report, which shows them information about your previous leases, including whether you missed payments or were evicted.
In terms of the minimum credit score required to rent an apartment, there's no hard-and-fast requirements as things can vary by landlord and locale. That said, the average credit score of renters in the U.S. in 2020 was 638, according to a recent RENTCafé analysis. Renters in major cities and in high-end units have higher credit scores on average.
Tips and Strategies to Get Approved
The way you approach the application process can make you a more desirable applicant. Landlords generally like to see applicants who do the following:
When meeting with potential landlords, first impressions are everything. Treat it like a business meeting—dress the part, be punctual and come with all the required documentation in hand. Bring your photo ID, along with recent pay stubs or other documentation you can use to provide proof of income when completing your application. You can also expect landlords to:
- Run a tenant screening report, which shows your prior rental history.
- Check your credit, which can cause a hard credit inquiry to appear on your credit.
- Order a criminal background check.
- Charge an application fee.
Just like a job interview, you want to paint yourself in the best light when applying for an apartment. Having references readily available can only help your case, especially if you have one from a prior landlord who can vouch for your reliability as a tenant. References from other creditors can also work in your favor. Your previous utility provider, for example, may be able to provide a letter confirming your positive payment history.
Offer a Pet Interview
Prospective renters who have pets may be asked to pay a separate fee when completing their rental application. If the property owner is wary of allowing pets at all, asking to schedule a quick pet interview could ease their concerns and tip the scales in your favor. In some cases, offering a larger pet deposit may help your odds of getting approved, especially if the landlord is concerned about potential damage to the property.
Options for Renting an Apartment When You Have Bad or No Credit
Poor credit or a slim credit history can create roadblocks to getting approved for an apartment. Here are some potential workarounds that could help your application along, even if you have bad credit.
- Consider a cosigner. Look to a parent, friend or other family member with good credit who's comfortable coming on as a cosigner. Just keep in mind that if you fail to keep up with your rent payments, they'll also be held financially responsible. This is something that could create a strain on the relationship if you don't hold up your end of the bargain.
- Offer to pay more upfront. Paying a security deposit along with your first month's rent is standard when applying for a new rental home. If you have poor credit, offer to put down a larger deposit or an extra month or two of rent. It could be enough to ease the landlord's concerns, especially if it's presented alongside strong references and proof of steady employment.
- Narrow your search to landlords who won't pull your credit. While rare, not all landlords require a credit check. Zero in on individual landlords who may be more willing to bypass it when compared to property management companies. Still, there are no guarantees, and you'll likely need to pay more upfront to make it worth their while. Sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace can be good places to begin your search.
- Lower your expectations. Instead of moving into a nice apartment close to work, you may have to settle for a more modest unit in another part of town. Opting for a more affordable place could cause a landlord to put less weight on your creditworthiness.
- Consider moving into an apartment with an established lease. Moving in with a roommate who already has a rental lease could be a great option for someone with less-than-perfect credit. Just be certain their lease allows for subletting. In some cases, you may still need to submit to a credit check, but the landlord may offer more leeway. Another option is to move in with a roommate who owns a home. In this case, you pay rent to them directly, which they put toward their monthly mortgage payment.
The Bottom Line
Getting approved for an apartment comes down to demonstrating that you're a reliable tenant who will make good on your rent each month. Taking steps to improve your credit score ahead of the application process can help you do just that. Experian Boost®ø is another simple tool that links a record of your utility and phone payments directly to your credit file—potentially giving a lift to the credit scores based on your Experian credit file. Think of it as a hands-off way to strengthen your credit score.