How to Rent an Apartment with Bad Credit?

Sometimes, bad credit happens to good people. Getting an apartment with bad credit if your credit is less than perfect can be a bit more difficult — but not impossible.

With a bit of determination, there are many ways of renting with bad credit.

If your credit score has some room for improvement, here are some of the best ways to find an apartment with bad credit.

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Check your credit report first

Before you start hunting for a bad credit apartment, be sure to check your credit report. You’ll be better prepared and you may even find some errors on your credit report that can be fixed.

  • Find your credit score. By federal law, you can get a free copy of your credit report once each year. Just visit AnnualCreditReport.com, which is a free website maintained by all 3 credit bureaus. Beware of other websites promising free credit reports or look-alike websites.
  • Discover any errors or fraud. Something as simple as a clerical error or outdated information could weigh down your credit score. In other cases, you may have been the victim of fraud, causing negative entries due to an account someone opened in your name. Verify your credit report information against your own records to be sure your information is accurate.
  • File a dispute. Typically, the 3 credit bureaus show similar information but it’s possible for one bureau to show incorrect information while the others have no errors. File a dispute for any errors you find but only with the bureau that shows the error. Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax each use their own databases and each have their own process for handling disputes. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus to remove disputed entries from your credit report after 30 days if the creditor can’t prove the entry is valid or doesn’t respond in time. Removed entries can return if the creditor responds after 30 days, however.

Improve your credit score before renting with bad credit

If you’ve scoured your credit report and fixed the errors you’ve found but your credit score still needs some improvement, consider these ways to raise your score.

Improve or rebuild your credit

They say time heals all wounds but if you need to hasten the process, getting a secured credit card or a credit-builder loan can help to rebuild your credit a bit faster.

  • With a secured credit card, you make a deposit with the credit card issuer. The deposit amount secures a credit line for the same amount as the deposit. As you make on-time payments on your secured credit card, your credit rating should improve — assuming no other negative entries appear or your credit report. You may see a small increase in your credit score almost immediately because your credit utilization should drop when you first get the card. Be aware, however, that negative items can stay on your credit report for several years. Late payments also have a strong effect for the first 18 months following the delinquency. It’s important to stay current with your new secured credit card. A credit-builder loan offers another way to improve your credit score. Secured credit cards are revolving lines.
  • A credit-builder loan offers a way to build or rebuild your credit using an installment loan instead. With an installment loan, you borrow a fixed amount and make payments according to a fixed schedule. However, credit-builder loans come with a twist. Instead of receiving the funds immediately, you receive the funds from the loan after you pay off the loan. Both secured credit cards and credit-builder loans provide a good solution for rebuilding your credit if you can’t get approved for traditional credit cards or loans.

Your on-time payments for these credit-building tools are reported to the 3 credit bureaus, boosting your credit score over time.

Boost your credit score with Experian Boost

There’s another interesting option if you have a solid history of paying your utility bills on time.

Experian Boost now offers a unique way to improve your credit score by adding your phone or utility bills to your credit report.

These services usually don’t affect your credit report unless you’ve had late payments, unpaid balances, collections, or charge offs.

With Experian Boost, you can use your good payment history for your phone or utility bills to boost your FICO score.

Experian indicates that average users see an increase of 13 points on their FICO score by using the service but also cautions that not all lenders use the enhanced score.

Make on-time payments

Your credit score measures several aspects of your payment history and credit usage. Payment history has the largest effect, making up 35% of your FICO score.

Be sure to make all payments on time. In most cases, creditors report a late payment if payment isn’t received within 30 days following the due date.

Watch your credit utilization ratio

Your credit utilization ratio refers to the amount of credit you’ve used compared to the amount of credit you have available.

Many experts recommend that you keep your credit utilization below 30%.

For example, if you have 2 credit cards with a combined credit limit of $1,000, you wouldn’t want to use more than $300 total.

Your credit utilization ratio makes up nearly a third of your FICO score.

How to get an apartment with bad credit

building with sign for rent
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If you need a place to hang your hat before you can get your credit scores up to snuff, you still have some options.

1. Consider apartments with no credit check

Larger apartment complexes usually require a credit check and many have higher credit score requirements.

However, you might have better luck with smaller complexes or even private landlords.

Even small complexes and private landlords often check credit these days, but they also may be more willing to forgive some blemishes on your credit report.

Consider homes or duplexes converted to apartments or smaller complexes that may give poor or bad credit tenants a chance.

2. Check several neighborhoods

If you have bad credit, you probably won’t find many places to rent in Beverly Hills’ exclusive 90210 area code or on New York’s Park Avenue.

However, this is a time to be flexible and consider other options. Lower income areas often have lower requirements to rent an apartment.

Keep an eye on safety and convenience as well. After all, your rented space is still your home — at least for now. Take your time and choose carefully.

3. Show proof of income

Your current income may be higher than your credit score might suggest.

In some cases, a landlord may overlook a less-than-perfect credit report if you can show your current income is sufficient to pay the rent.

Pay stubs typically show your pay for the pay period as well as your year to date income. This may be enough to sway a skeptical landlord.

You can also use other documents as proof of income. For example, a year-end W-2 or tax returns show your annual income. If you’re a contractor, 1099’s can provide proof of income.

4. Provide references

A few kind words about your character or payment history can go a long way when you’re applying for an apartment.

If you can use a prior landlord as a reference and you left on good terms, this type of reference probably carries the most weight with landlords.

However, any credible reference can be helpful. For example, employers or teachers can also make good references.

You’ll want to choose someone who is well-spoken and with whom you’ve displayed responsible behavior.

Once you know you’ll be looking for an apartment, start reaching out to potential references and ask their permission beforehand.

5. Explain your credit history

The structure of credit reports can make consumers feel like they don’t have a voice.

Often, past credit performance doesn’t provide the full context and may not reflect your current financial situation.

Fortunately, you can add a 100 word statement to your credit history that may help your case or explain your past challenges.

For example, maybe a job layoff or medical expense caused some temporary problems which have since been resolved.

However, you’ll want to avoid adding comments that may make you seem frivolous or careless. Equifax allows one statement. TransUnion and Experian allow multiple comments.

Adding a statement may be preferable to explaining your credit history on the phone or in person.

If your credit report shows signs of trouble in the past, you may not get the opportunity to explain verbally.

6. Pay a little more up front

An offer to prepay some of the rent can send a strong message if you have bad credit or thin credit.

Landlords want tenants who are good neighbors and who will take care of the property. However, their biggest concern is often whether you can pay the rent.

By offering to prepay, you remove some of the risk for the landlord and make a compelling case that your credit or financial issues of the past are now behind you.

As a caveat, it’s also important to be sure your landlord is financially sound. For example, if your landlord is in pre-foreclosure, your pre-paid rent could be at risk if the property is foreclosed.

7. Offer to set up direct deposit for rent

Many lenders offer a better rate if you set up automatic payments. Landlords may be open to a similar arrangement in which you make automatic electronic payments on a fixed date.

This structure can be attractive because it eliminates most excuses and stories about checks lost in the mail.

Your landlord can even set up a direct debit against your bank account. Consider your options before choosing a direct debit however.

A mistake on the landlord’s part could lead to extra payments after you’ve left, not unlike the extra charges that can happen when trying to cancel a gym membership or a subscription.

8. Offer a larger security deposit

It’s common to think of a security deposit as a way to cover the cost of damage to the apartment.

However, your security deposit can serve another role and can also cover money owed to the landlord — like missed rent payments.

Consider offering a larger security deposit to reduce risk for the landlord.

9. Get a co-signer or guarantor

As with various types of credit and loans, getting a co-signer can help you qualify for a lease if you have bad credit or even if you just don’t have much credit history yet.

A co-signer is someone who agrees to pay if you can’t pay the rent. For example, a parent with good credit might cosign for a young person getting their first apartment.

10. Find a roommate

If you can split the cost of the rent 2 or 3 ways, you may have a better chance of qualifying for a lease.

Of course, sharing a space with someone requires some adjustment but it can provide a safety buffer because you don’t have to cover the rent by yourself.

However, it’s also important to choose your roommate wisely. If your roommate can’t pay their share of the rent, the entire burden may fall to you.

What do landlords look for on a credit report?

two roommates
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Landlords or property managers might prioritize different parts of your credit report but tend to focus their attention on a few areas.

  • Payment history. As you’d expect, payment history is a large factor. However, your recent payment history matters more than your ancient history. Late payments from a few years ago still affect your credit score but may not matter to landlords — assuming you’re current on your bills now.
  • Rental history. In most cases, your previous rental history won’t appear on your credit report at all. However, if you’ve had an unpaid balance that went to collections or if you’ve been evicted, those items will appear and can make renting much more challenging.
  • Debts. Balances that went to collections — including unpaid rent — are a red flag that can make renting difficult. If possible, pay off old debts before applying for a lease.
  • Bankruptcy. Many times, bankruptcy creates a more sustainable financial situation but it can still carry a stigma and cause prospective landlords to raise an eyebrow. While you can’t remove a bankruptcy from your credit report, a solid pattern of making payments on time can show that your financial difficulties have passed.

Where to find an apartment with bad credit?

  • Look on Craigslist. Online classifieds like Craigslist can be a great resource for finding apartments owned by independent landlords who may be more flexible if you have less-than-perfect credit.
  • Check newspapers in your local area. Yes, people still use newspapers and your local newspaper can be a great place to find listings for apartments or rooms for rent.
  • Look for apartments that fit into your commute. Keep your eyes open on your way to work, to the grocery store, to the gym, or wherever else your daily travels take you. A sign in an apartment window or a “now leasing” marquis might lead you to your next home.

Bottom line on how to rent with bad credit

Getting an apartment when you have bad credit or if you don’t have much credit history can be more challenging but it isn’t impossible.

If you’re able to take some steps to improve your credit before applying, you’ll have more options available to you.

Also, consider your options before getting a roommate, pre-paying the rent, or choosing other solutions.

Everyone’s situation is a little different and what may be the best solution for one person might not be best for another.

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