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What is the minimum credit score to rent an apartment?
There’s no minimum credit score required to rent an apartment, legally speaking. Landlords and housing management companies are free to set their own requirements.
Landlord-imposed credit score requirements depend on the person or company you’re renting from, as well as on the state, city, or neighborhood that you plan to live in.
According to a 2020 RentCafe survey, average credit scores varied widely among residents of different cities, ranging from 580 (in Arlington, TX) to 719 (in San Francisco, CA). While these statistics don’t directly reflect the credit score requirements in these cities, they do give some indication of what credit score landlords might expect to see when you apply for a rental.
What’s considered a good credit score for renting?
The two main credit scoring models define a good credit score as one that falls into the following ranges:
You’ll have a higher chance of being approved as a tenant if you’re within or above these ranges. 3 Conversely, anything below 580 (FICO) or 600 (VantageScore) is generally considered a bad credit score. Although you can still rent an apartment with no credit or bad credit, it’s harder.
What do landlords look for when they check my credit?
When landlords check your credit, they’re looking for evidence that you’ll pay your rent on time. The metrics that they use to do this often vary, but they’ll pay special attention to your payment history—specifically, whether you have any derogatory items like late payments, charge-offs, or collection accounts.
Will landlords check my FICO score or another type of credit score?
Landlords may look at your FICO score, your VantageScore, or another credit score entirely. It ultimately depends on which credit reporting agency they contact.
There are also smaller credit-reporting agencies that your landlord might contact, although this is less common.
What else do landlords check?
In addition to looking at your numerical credit score, your landlord might also check the individual items in your credit history to obtain a more complete picture of how you manage your finances. In particular, they might check whether you have a history of unpaid utility bills, bankruptcies, or evictions. (Eviction doesn’t directly affect your credit, but as you’d expect, landlords don’t look kindly on it.)
Tenant screening services, such as the ones offered by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, sometimes also provide the following information:
- Employment history
- Public records, such as tax liens
- Rental history information
- Criminal history
Why do landlords use credit checks?
Landlords run credit checks to find out whether you can make payments reliably and on time. They may use your credit score and credit report as indicators to evaluate your risk as a tenant.
7 ways to rent if you have a bad credit score
If you have a bad credit score, then follow these steps to make yourself more appealing to your prospective landlord.
1. Provide proof of income or savings
One way to reassure your landlord that you’re able to pay your rent is to show them that you have a steady income.
Historically, personal finance experts have advised making sure your rent expenses don’t exceed a third of your income. Depending on your circumstances, this may or may not be feasible, but it’s a good goal to aim for.
If you can’t provide evidence that you’re financially reliable, proof of savings equivalent to several months’ worth of rent might be adequate for some landlords.
2. Pay more upfront
If you have poor credit, landlords may be happier to rent to you if you can provide additional security by paying a larger-than-normal security deposit. You can also try offering to pay several months of rent in advance.
3. Provide references
You may be able to strengthen your rental application by including character references that demonstrate how trustworthy and responsible you are. Letters from past landlords or employers are particularly good for this purpose, although you could also ask friends, former roommates, or other people you know.
4. Provide proof of previous rent payments
If your credit score is low but you’ve always paid your rent on time, then you can show your potential landlord or property management proof of your on-time rent payments for the last 6 months or more. This proof could come in the form of bank statements, canceled checks (which may be available through your bank’s online portal), or other documentation.
5. Consider getting a cosigner
If you have a friend or a family member with good credit, consider asking them to cosign your lease with you. This is a particularly good option if you’re renting for the first time and you have an insufficient credit history.
Bear in mind that your cosigner will be required to pay your rent if you fail to do so. Before committing, carefully consider the implications of cosigning a lease to make sure that it’s the right move for both of you.
6. Look for a landlord who doesn’t check credit
Try searching for apartments advertised by independent landlords who are renting their own properties (as opposed to property management companies).
Independent landlords can use their own discretion when choosing tenants, so they may be more accommodating if they like you. Apartment and building management companies, on the other hand, are unlikely to have such flexible requirements.
7. Find a roommate
Applying to rent a house or apartment with a roommate who has good credit might boost your chances of success.
Moreover, if you move in with someone who has already signed a lease and just wants to fill an empty room, your name might not even need to go on the contract, which also means you might not need to undergo a credit check at all.
What if my application is rejected after my credit check?
If a landlord rejects your application due to information on your credit report, then they must do the following things in accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act: 7
- Give you notice—orally, in writing, or electronically—that your rental application is being denied as a result of information in your credit reports (note that they don’t have to tell you exactly what information).
- Send you the contact details of the company that produced the credit report (e.g., Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax).
- Tell you about your right to fix any inaccurate information and to request a free copy of your credit report, which you must do within 60 days of the landlord’s decision.
As mentioned, if your application is unsuccessful, then you can always try looking for another apartment with a landlord who doesn’t run credit checks, although this will narrow down your options.
In the meantime, it’s a good idea to take some steps to improve your credit score to make life easier in the future.
How to improve your credit score
Here are some methods you can use to fix your credit before applying for your next apartment:
- Monitor your credit reports: Check your credit report for inaccurate information that might be hurting your score (e.g., late payments, charge-offs, or other negative information that shouldn’t be there), then dispute these errors with the credit bureaus and the listed creditor.
- Keep on top of your bills: In the months leading up to your next move, take extra care to pay all your bills on time to maintain a positive payment history.
- Get credit for your rent and bill payments: Although you could indirectly build credit by paying rent by making your rent payments with a credit card or loan, it’s much easier to just sign up for a rent-reporting service. You can also use Experian Boost for free to get credit for paying for services like Netflix, cell phone contracts, and utilities.
- Get current on all your accounts: If you have any past-due bills, pay them off as soon as possible. You may even be able to remove late payments from your credit report by negotiating with your lender for a goodwill deletion or pay for delete.
- Ask for an increase in your credit limit: Presuming you don’t start spending more, getting a credit increase will boost your credit score by reducing your credit utilization rate (the proportion of your available credit that you’re using).
- Avoid applying for new credit: Most credit applications trigger hard inquiries, which take a few points off your credit score, and too many may be seen as a red flag by lenders and landlords.
- Avoid closing old accounts: Old accounts in good standing positively contribute to your credit history, and closing them can hurt your credit. In particular, closing a revolving credit account (such as a credit card account) will probably cause an increase in your credit utilization rate.