Renting an Apartment with Bad Credit: 5 Strategies

Bad credit score? Access tips to rent an apartment, even when you have a low score. Learn actionable strategies to improve your situation and boost chances of approval.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
January 5, 2024
Renting an Apartment with Bad Credit: 5 Strategies

Finding an apartment to rent can feel like a maze. Having a less-than-ideal credit score on top of that? No fun. But, you can take a breath — there are still paths to get you keys to the right rental.

Whether you've had past money troubles or haven't had ample time to build your credit score, the numbers on your report don't need to keep you locked out. You have access to tons of options that can help improve your situation and get you into your goal home.

This guide will walk you through practical tips to boost your chances of approval. We'll look at ways to offset a lower credit score using other factors landlords consider. With some targeted applications and spruce-ups, you can navigate the rental market successfully, despite the credit hurdles.

So, let's get started on mapping out how you can make this happen, and you'll be moving into your new favorite rental before you know it!

What is a good credit score?

A credit score is a criteria that landlords and property managers consider when evaluating rental applications. It provides insight into a potential tenant's creditworthiness and ability to manage debt responsibly. One common credit scoring model is the FICO score.

The FICO score is a numerical representation of one's credit consisting of three digits ranging from 300 to 850, with higher scores indicating better creditworthiness. Lenders and landlords rely on FICO scores to assess the risk of lending or renting to a person. A good credit score demonstrates a solid credit history and responsible financial behavior.

Here's a breakdown of credit score ranges:

  • Exceptional (800-850): Individuals falling within this range of scores are considered to have excellent credit. They typically have a solid history of on-time payments, low credit utilization, and diverse credit accounts.
  • Very good (740-799): Falling within this range suggests responsible credit management and a track record of meeting financial obligations. Most landlords view prospective tenants in this category as low-risk borrowers.
  • Good (670-739): Considered an average credit score range, individuals within this bracket generally have a fair credit history. They may have some missed or late payments but have demonstrated overall responsible credit behavior.
  • Fair (580-669): This range indicates a below-average credit score. Applicants in this category might have faced financial difficulties or have a limited credit history.
  • Poor (300-579): Landlords see a credit score in this range as high-risk. Individuals here may have a history of defaults, delinquencies, or bankruptcy. Getting an apartment with a poor credit score can be challenging and requires alternative approaches or additional documentation.

Minimum credit score to rent an apartment

There isn't a universal minimum credit score required to rent an apartment, as every landlord gets to determine what they consider an acceptable credit score for an applicant. Additionally, each landlord may have varying criteria and factors beyond just credit scores when evaluating rental applications.

If your credit score is within the "fair" range (580 to 669), prospective landlords may scrutinize your credit report more closely. It may not automatically disqualify you from renting an apartment; it just means you need to provide additional information for the landlord to accept you as a tenant.

Private landlords may take a holistic approach, considering other aspects such as income, rental references, employment history, and even personal interviews.

Prepare to rent, even with bad credit

If you have bad credit and want to rent an apartment, there are steps you can take to boost your chances of being approved. Let's start with the documentation you should prepare:

  1. Find a cosigner: One option is to look for a trusted friend or family member who is willing to serve as a cosigner on the lease agreement. A cosigner with a strong credit history can give reassurance to the landlord and increase your likelihood of being approved.
  2. Gather income verification documents: Collect documents that verify your income, such as recent pay stubs, bank statements, or tax returns. Providing evidence of a stable income can help demonstrate your ability to make a timely rent payment despite your credit history.
  3. Obtain letters of reference: Reach out to previous landlords or other credible individuals who can vouch for your reliability as a tenant. Letters of reference highlighting your responsible rental history, prompt payment habits, and overall good character can carry significant weight in the landlord's decision-making process.

Other strategies for applying for apartments with bad credit

So, you've provided additional documentation and you have a co-signer. Here are some other things you can do to increase your chances of being approved:

Offer a larger security deposit

Consider offering a larger-than-usual security deposit, such as an amount equal to two months' rent. It demonstrates your commitment to fulfilling your rental obligations and provides the private landlord with added financial security. The increased security deposit can alleviate concerns about your creditworthiness and give peace of mind to both parties involved in the rental agreement.

Look for apartments without a credit check

While it may prove difficult to locate apartments who accept bad credit, some landlords or rental communities may advertise apartments without requiring a credit check. These listings provide an excellent opportunity for individuals with bad credit to secure housing, as they allow for the bypassing of potential rejections based solely on credit history.

This approach can prove helpful if you're facing financial challenges or trying to rebuild your credit. By avoiding the stress of a credit check, you can focus on finding a suitable home rather than worrying about your score.

Seek out individual landlords

Individual landlords can often be more flexible than large property management companies on credit requirements. Unlike rigid criteria followed by corporations, individual landlords assess potential tenants on a case-by-case basis, considering various factors beyond just credit scores.

These factors may include employment history, references, and personal circumstances. To find individual rental properties that suit your needs, use an online app to find local rental listings or connect with real estate agents who specialize in individual rentals.

Openly discuss your financial status

It's a good idea to start with an open and honest conversation regarding your financial situation when you connect with potential landlords.

Take the opportunity to explain the circumstances that may have contributed to your credit history, and focus on the positive changes you have made to increase your financial stability.

You can also include more documentation, such as proof of income or letters of reference from a former landlord. Extra information can help to build your case and provide a better picture of you as a tenant.

Consider government housing programs

Explore government housing programs that cater to low-income individuals and families, such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly known as Section 8). This program offers rental assistance to eligible participants so they can find safe, affordable housing.

What sets these government programs apart are flexible eligibility criteria and credit requirements, which make it easier for low-income applicants or those with poor credit to qualify and find suitable housing with rental subsidies.

What criteria do landlords consider when reviewing your credit report?

Landlords review your credit report as part of the rental application process and review key criteria to determine your creditworthiness. Let's take a closer look at each factor:

1. Debts

Landlords will look at your credit report to see what your outstanding debts are. They'll see your credit card balances, student loans, and car loans and other types of debt that the three major credit bureaus report on.

Why do landlords care about outstanding debts? Most landlords aim to make sure that you have a manageable level of debt and that you're not financially overextended. A high debt-to-income ratio raises concerns about your ability to make rent payments consistently.

Too high of a debt burden on a credit report can jeopardize rental application approval. By assessing debts, landlords can determine whether potential tenants will be able to handle additional monthly expenses required for rent.

2. Rental history

Your rental history helps determine suitability as a tenant. Landlords review past rental experiences, seeking evidence of consistent on-time rent payments, following lease terms, and positive interactions with landlords.

Why does this matter? A record of being a reliable, responsible tenant can greatly influence approval decisions. On the flip side, eviction or property damage incidents raise concerns.

You should seek to maintain a positive rental history. Consistently showing that you're a tenant in good standing will increase your chances of getting the rental property you want. Too many issues with past landlords can jeopardize future application approvals.

3. Payment history

Landlords review your payment history to assess financial reliability — your track record of making timely payments on loans, utilities, and other recurring expenses.

Making payments on time demonstrates responsible financial behavior, trustworthiness, and discipline in effectively managing finances. It establishes you as a reliable tenant who takes financial commitments seriously.

4. Bankruptcy status

Landlords are interested in knowing whether you have filed for bankruptcy in the past. However, having bankruptcy on your record does not necessarily result in automatic disqualification when applying for an apartment rental.

Property managers carefully consider the circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy, such as the reasons behind it, the timeline of events, and how it may impact your ability to meet your financial commitments consistently. Landlords understand that life can bring unexpected challenges, and they value transparency and open communication regarding tenants' financial situations.

Have an open and honest discussion with potential landlords about your past bankruptcy. Provide them with any relevant details and explain how you've taken steps to improve your financial stability. This approach can increase your chances of finding a suitable rental and building a positive landlord-tenant relationship.

5. Proof of employment

A potential landlord will often request proof of employment, such as recent contracts, pay stubs, or employer letters, to verify you have a stable income to cover rent payments. Showing consistent employment gives landlords the confidence that you have the means to meet your monthly rent obligations.

If you have recent gaps in employment, this may cause concerns about your current capacity to make rent payments. Be prepared to explain your situation in further detail to the landlord or property management company.

6. Income history

Landlords don't only look at proof of current employment; they also check records of what you've earned in the past. This helps them confirm you'll have enough money coming in to pay rent while also covering your other costs.

Many landlords have rules about minimum income levels or comparing your income to the rental price. It helps them decide if getting the apartment would stretch your finances too tightly.

Showing detailed paperwork about your past pay, like tax returns, aids in the evaluation process. Landlords can see your earnings over time and feel assured that you have steady finances.

7. Criminal history

Landlords might check for any past charges or convictions the applicant has on their record. They especially take note of major issues like drug crimes, violent behavior, and harming property.

Spotting these types of offenses within the recent past can worry landlords. They may question if the issues could impact other renters' safety or lead to property damage.

What should you do if your credit score is inaccurate?

If you discover that your credit score is wrong, you should take immediate action to resolve the situation. Start by getting a free credit report from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion so you can check for errors or outdated information.

If you find any inaccuracies, report them directly with the major credit bureaus by providing detailed explanations and supporting documentation. Follow up on the disputes and actively monitor your credit reports to confirm corrections.

You should also reach out directly to creditors to fix any incorrect information. Keep documentation throughout the process and monitor your credit regularly for new errors or signs of identity theft. You can also get help from a reputable credit counseling agency or credit repair service.

Improve your credit score prior to renting an apartment

Good credit means better financial options, including getting the apartment you want. Actively building your credit score can open doors. Here are practical tips to improve your number over time:

Pay your debts

One of the most effective ways to enhance your credit score is to pay off outstanding debts. Prioritize paying down high-interest debts, such as credit card balances or personal loans. Set up a budget and allocate extra funds towards debt repayment. Making consistent payments towards reducing your debts shows responsible financial behavior and can positively impact your credit score.

Pay bills on time

Consistently paying your bills on time is the foundation to building a good credit history. Late payments can significantly lower your credit score, so make it a priority to pay all your bills by their due dates. Consider setting up reminders and automatic payments to make sure you never miss a payment. Over time, this habit of timely bill payment will help improve your low credit score.

Overcoming apartment bad credit hurdles

Even with bad credit, housing for rent can still be in the cards for you. Though it may present some challenges, it's not impossible, so stay optimistic! Prospective tenants with poor credit can still find suitable housing options by taking proactive steps.

Bad credit does not define a person's ability to be a responsible tenant. With determination and perseverance, you can overcome a low credit score and find a place to call home. Explore your options, be open to alternative solutions, and keep working towards improving your financial standing.

Rent an apartment with bad credit FAQs

How long does a bad credit history affect my ability to rent an apartment?

Negative information on your credit report can show up for seven years.

As time passes and you take steps to improve your credit, you can reduce the impact on your credit score. If you build a positive rental history and demonstrate financial stability, you can start to reduce the effects of past bad credit.

How far back do landlords typically check credit history?

Landlords usually review recent credit history, typically spanning the last 2-3 years. Focus on addressing and explaining any issues within this timeframe during the rental application process.

Can I appeal a rejection based on my credit history?

In some cases, you may have the opportunity to appeal a rejection. Communicate with the landlord, address concerns, and provide any additional information that may support your application.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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