How to Rent an Apartment with Bad Credit
There’s a plethora of reasons for having bad credit: recently losing a job, a financial setback that was not in your control, medical problems, having your identity stolen — just to name a few. Typically, landlords want renters with credit around the national average, about 680 or better. Renting an apartment with bad credit or no credit isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. Here’s how to get an apartment with bad credit and convince the landlord to hand over the keys.
Check Your Credit
First, you want to arm yourself with knowledge. You may know your credit is bad, but not know exactly what your credit score is, or exactly what your credit report says about you as a consumer.
Where to Get Your Credit Report
You have a few options for obtaining your credit score. Your bank might offer you a monthly credit report for free, or as a paid service. Once per year, you can get your free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Know What’s On Your Credit Report
Each report contains your accounts and debts. For example, it may show you were late on a credit card account, but pay your car payments on time each month. Bankruptcies and collections will be shown, as will outside credit inquiries, such as if you were shopping for cars at multiple dealerships.
Consider Credit Repair
If your bad credit woes are the result of a mistake, and your credit report is not accurate, you may have a simple fix. This could be due to identity theft, or if accounts are missing from the report. However, if your credit score is low for other reasons, you may wish to consider professional credit repair. In the meantime, let’s look at how to get an apartment with a bad credit score.
Get a Co-Signer on Your Lease or Rental Agreement
Having a co-signer on the rental agreement is the easiest way to overcome a bad credit score. It shows the landlord that someone trusts you. The co-signer does not have to live in the apartment, but agrees to pay the bills should you stop paying or default on your rent. That can, however, be the complicated part: finding someone who trusts you to keep paying to act as your co-signer.
Having a Co-Signer Will Build Your Credit and Provide Security
If you ask for your landlord to report your rent payments to the credit bureaus while you have a co-signer (they should, but double-check just in case), you will build your credit.
This is, of course, dependent on paying rent on time, every time. If you do, however, you should see your credit score rise, meaning you won’t need a co-signer on future rental agreements or loans.
While rent may not show on a FICO credit report, there is also VantageScore. Unlike FICO, Vantage takes rent history into account when calculating your score. However, this is predicated, again, on your landlord reporting your rent payments. They may not, even if you ask them to, which is something to keep in mind. FICO XD, an offshoot of FICO score, factors in payments for bills such as utility and phone bills.
Roommates, Parents, and Other Good Co-Signers
If you are willing to share your living space, consider moving in with a roommate. A roommate can act as a co-signer if needed, but plan to split rent with them. As a bonus, this eases your personal financial burden, allowing you to pay off any other debt and repair your credit faster.
Of course, roommates aren’t for everyone. If you need a co-signer, try asking a parent, relative, or trusted friend who has good credit. Be warned: your relationship, should you stop paying, could take a turn for the worse if the co-signer needs to start paying on your behalf.
How to Ask for a Co-Signer
You need to be comfortable with rejection. Many people, even family, will prove hesitant on becoming a co-signer. It’s a large responsibility, and they are putting a large amount of trust in you that you will always pay in full, on time, or their credit will suffer for actions they didn’t even take themselves.
Because of this, family is the first place you should look, as they are probably the people who trust you the most. They understand your need for a roof over your head, and probably already know the reasons you need a co-signer.
If your family will not co-sign, try friends. Longtime, trusted friends may be willing to stake their financial future on you, if they trust you to pay.
When asking for someone to be a co-signer on a rental agreement (or any loan) understand that it is a large commitment for the other person. Treat the situation with the appropriate gravity. Be open and honest about how you came to be in the situation, and how you are working to fix your credit. Have numbers ready – what your income is, how much the rent is, what your bills will be, to prove you can pay. Hopefully, they will understand and agree to have their name on the rental agreement.
Know Where to Look
As you might expect, finding apartments that don’t require a credit check is not as simple as finding one that does. Instead, you need to utilize other resources to find the appropriate apartment.
This is the simplest method, but is easier said than done. You will probably be out of luck with apartments run or owned by large property management companies, so your best bet is to find apartments owned by independent landlords. These are individuals or families who rent property as a small business or a secondary income, rather than professionally. As a result, they may not look at your credit score, or they may be willing to take a risk the professionals normally wouldn’t. Property management companies are looking to mitigate risks, and are likely to deny you outright.
Houses and Apartments
Renting an apartment isn’t your only option. Independent landlords might also own houses for rent. For example, someone may buy a duplex, and rent out the second half. It’s possible to just wander around your desired neighborhood to try and find a place for rent. An independent owner may only advertise with a sign on the property. Lower-income areas may also be more likely to enter into rental agreements without a credit check. There are multiple resources you can use to find these opportunities.
Online Resources and Classifieds
If you would rather not drive or walk around an area, check the classifieds section of a local newspaper – the bigger the newspaper, the better. You can also search online at a few websites, including:
There is also a resource for finding a co-signer on the internet called Anchor Your Assets. The service may be able to put you in touch with someone willing to be a co-signer if you are unable to find anyone else you trust.
Make Your Case
You may need to plead your case and explain a few things to your potential landlord. Let’s look at some pain points they might have, and how to address them.
Be Ready to Explain Your Credit Score and Rental History
If you can’t find a landlord that doesn’t credit check, fear not. There are other options. But first, it’s important to know what landlords are actually looking for in a credit check – it’s not just your credit score. Some of the bigger concerns include:
- Poor payment history – especially with utilities
- Credit collections or garnished wages – meaning you didn’t pay someone else
- Bankruptcies – showing you may not be good with money
- Too many credit cards – which can also hurt your credit by itself
- A high amount of debt – meaning your money is going elsewhere
Much like when courting a co-signer, explain your problems and be honest. Your bad credit or rental history may have extenuating circumstances, and the landlord could be willing to overlook your credit. Showing improvement will also be favorable in a landlord’s eye. Be prepared to show how you are taking steps to improve your credit, demonstrating that you are responsible and that the landlord can count on you to pay rent. If you have bad credit, but good renting history, you will look better than someone with just bad credit, as you have proven that you pay rent on time.
Appeal to Humanity
While a sob story could be a bit much, try appealing to the landlord’s humanity. If you have nowhere else to go, need a roof over your head, and they are your last hope, explain your situation. Don’t make up a story, but if you have extenuating circumstances, especially beyond your control, of why you need to rent with bad credit, be sure to explain.
Know What Landlords Want to Hear
As stated, be honest and open about your problems, but focus on how you are going to fix them. This is what is important to the landlord, knowing you are doing your best to solve the problem while paying your rent. They want to know how you are going to pay in full, on time, every month. Do you have a solid job lined up? Do you have reliable transportation to the job? Above all, the landlord wants to be paid, and they want to know how you are going to pay them – especially if you have had money problems in the past.
Plan to Pay More
If all else fails, and you can’t find a landlord who will forgo a credit check, you might want to offer more money for the space. Let’s look at a few ways to sweeten the deal for a prospective landlord.
If you need a room immediately, you may just have to take the hit and pay a “risk” fee, increasing your rent. It’s not ideal, but it could get a roof over your head. This is, again, a gesture of good faith to show the landlord you are serious about living on their property.
Having bad credit means it’s harder to convince a landlord to rent you a property – but it can be done with honesty and negotiation. Plus, with many of these strategies, your credit will improve – making it easier the next time you need to rent an apartment.
Larger Security Deposit
You can make yourself more appealing to the landlord by offering a larger security deposit up front. This may not be an option — some rental properties have specific rules for security deposits — but if possible, it’s another sign of good faith to the landlord. A similar tactic is offering more upfront in rent. Instead of the typical first and last month’s rent, offer the first three or six months in advance.
Offer Autopay or Early Pay
Much like offering a larger deposit upfront, you can offer to autopay by direct deposit. This way, the money is automatically taken out of your bank account and goes into the landlord’s coffers. So long as you have a steady paycheck or money in the bank, they don’t have to worry about being paid. This helps build a history of consistent payment, which will also reflect on your credit score going forward. You can also offer to pay earlier than normal, so the landlord has the money sooner, and won’t be worried about you meeting your rent deadline.
Provide Letters of Recommendation
Bringing letters of recommendation to a meeting with a potential landlord shows that someone else trusts you enough to take the time to write a letter on your behalf. It can help convince a landlord you are trustworthy, and that they should rent to you. Here’s who you should ask for a letter of recommendation.
If you have rented in the past and paid on time, with no complaints from previous landlords, ask those landlords to write letters of recommendation. These provide peace of mind, with previous landlords confirming you paid on time and were a good tenant. These can show you are a responsible tenant who will not cause problems and that you have more character than a bad credit score shows.
Your present employer writing a letter to the landlord shows you have a job, which means a steady income. This shows you will be able to continue paying rent so long as you have the job. Your employer can also speak to your character. Are you a hard worker? Do you take your obligations seriously? Are you willing to improve? Your employer can answer these character questions, putting a landlord’s mind at ease.
Think of this as a cover letter. Provide a copy of your credit report — like you would a resume — and a letter explaining everything, much like the earlier advice. This simply provides everything in writing, for the landlord to review at their convenience. Explain why a car payment was late, and how you are better at paying on time now. This is another chance to be explain detrimental parts of your credit report.
Renting an apartment with poor credit is not easy, but it can be done. With a co-signer or by simply paying more, with letters of recommendation and your credit report in hand, ready to explain your situation, you stand a chance of signing a rental agreement and having a place to call home.
Trying to raise your credit score and lower your interest rates? Visit our credit score resource center for more tips and guides.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/
A former newspaper journalist, Cole spends his free time reading, writing, playing video games, watching movies, and learning about every subject under the sun. He lives with his wife and daughter in Idaho. Follow Cole on Twitter: @ColeMayer42
This post was updated December 19, 2017. It was originally published February 27, 2017.