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Do You Need Credit to Rent an Apartment?

Last Updated: January 10, 2024
3 min read

Key points about: how credit scores influence renting

  1. Landlords consider your credit score, alongside other factors like income and rental history, to decide whether you qualify for an apartment.

  2. Every landlord has different credit requirements, but a good credit score can improve your chances of being approved for an apartment.

  3. If you don’t have a credit history, or if you have poor credit, there are still steps you can take to qualify for an apartment.

Apartment hunting can be challenging, and once you find a place that fits your needs, you still have to apply and prove you’re a worthy candidate. Your credit history gives your landlord an idea of whether you manage money responsibly, but it’s not the only factor a landlord looks at. In addition to a credit check, the application process typically requires income and background verification. Keep reading to learn how good credit, bad credit, or no credit can affect your chances of renting an apartment and other things landlords consider.

What factors do landlords look at to determine if you qualify to rent?

Each potential landlord typically considers multiple aspects of your finances and personal history when approving you for an apartment. And you don’t need a flawless record to qualify; excelling in one area may offset shortcomings in another.

Your credit score is just one piece of the puzzle when qualifying for an apartment. But this three-digit calculation of the information in your credit report (a record of your borrowing and repayment history for credit cards and loans) paints a picture of your financial capabilities.

Landlords typically require proof of income to show you can afford to pay your rent. That might mean providing paystubs, a W-2, and even a letter from your employer. If you’re self-employed, you may need to provide tax returns that document your income.

Your rental history can help a prospective landlord determine whether you’re a reliable tenant. In addition to requesting a list of your previous residences, they may also ask for references from previous landlords. A longer history shows you can handle the responsibility of renting an apartment. If you’re a first-time renter, providing reference letters from reputable sources may help establish your credibility.

Landlords may run criminal background checks on prospective tenants. And some criminal offenses might disqualify would-be renters. However, according to the State of North Carolina, the Fair Housing Act prevents landlords from rejecting an applicant based solely on having a criminal record; other factors, like the crime’s severity, must be considered.

What credit score will help you get an apartment?

Credit score requirements vary by state and rental property. Luxury apartments may require a high credit score, while moderate- to low-income housing may allow lower credit scores. However, a good credit score can improve your approval odds.

Did you know?

Some credit card companies may offer cardmembers a free credit check online or through a mobile banking app. Regularly checking your credit score is a great way to monitor your progress while building your credit history.

So what’s a good score? Your credit score generally falls within five categories, or credit score ranges: exceptional (800 and over), very good (740 to 799), good (670 to 739), fair (580 to 669), and poor (below 579). A good to exceptional credit score may tell potential landlords that you’re financially responsible and more likely to pay your rent. 

How can you improve your credit before applying for an apartment?

Getting a handle on your credit before applying for an apartment is a good idea. You can start by checking your credit score and identifying areas that need improvement. Five core factors impact your credit score. Taking steps to improve one or more will ultimately help your score. Some efforts (like paying down debt) may have an immediate impact on boosting your credit score. If you're not sure which factors to focus on, request a copy of your credit report from each credit bureau to get more detailed information about your accounts and credit history. 

A record of how consistently you make on-time payments to your loans and credit cards, or whether you frequently miss payments.  Poor payment history may make your prospective landlord concerned about your ability to manage a monthly rent payment.

Your credit utilization (the total amount of your outstanding debt across all your credit accounts compared to your overall available credit) shows how much debt you’re managing. Maintaining lower credit balances may indicate you can comfortably take on more financial responsibility.

The length of time you’ve had your oldest open credit accounts shows the extent of your experience managing debt. An extended history can instill more confidence in a potential landlord.

If you have several recent credit inquiries or newly opened accounts, it may look like you’re over-eager for credit, which may signal risk. And applying for multiple lines of credit in a short time can lower your score.

The diversity of your open credit accounts, including credit cards and loans, shows you have experience managing different types of credit, which helps your credibility.

Can you rent an apartment without a credit history?

While building credit history can help you get approved for an apartment, a lack of credit may not mean you’re out of luck.

In some cases, you can rent an apartment with no credit history. But without a credit score, you might have fewer rental options than you would with a good credit score.

However, you can take steps to help your chances, from providing a larger security deposit, savings account statements, and letters of recommendation, to getting a roommate with a good credit history or using a co-signer.

Landlords and property managers typically charge renters a security deposit. Security deposits protect the landlord by incentivizing renters to fulfill their lease for fear of losing their deposit. A security deposit can also cover necessary repairs or cleaning costs once the renter moves out. Restrictions on security deposits vary but may include the first and last month’s rent. If you don’t have credit and are financially able, consider paying a higher security deposit to show you’re serious about the apartment. Note that local laws may prohibit paying more than one month’s rent as a security deposit, according to the Office of the New York State Attorney General.

If you have at least a few months’ rent set aside in a savings account, your account statements can strengthen your application. Showing you have a safety net to cover rent payments demonstrates financial stability.

Sometimes having someone vouch for you can make all the difference. If you don’t have a credit history, consider asking a previous landlord, roommate, coworker, or boss to write a reference letter that speaks to your reliability.

Having a roommate can make it possible to rent an apartment even if you don’t have a good credit score. When two people apply for an apartment together, the landlord may consider their combined qualifications when assessing requirements. For example, if your roommate has good credit, it may compensate for your lack of credit. And your joint income can also tip the scales in your favor.

Finding a co-signer (typically a family member or friend) with established credit and sufficient income can help offset your credit deficiency. A co-signer signs your lease with you, guaranteeing your landlord will receive rent even if you can’t pay. But the co-signer risks damaging their credit if payments lapse. A third-party guarantor service charges a fee to take on that risk. Guarantor services may have credit requirements themselves, so it’s important to do your research.

Landlords and property managers often assess your credit to help them decide whether to approve your rental application. A good credit score indicates a track record of responsibility and signals to potential landlords that you’ll pay your rent on time each month. That’s not to say renters with bad credit or no credit won’t qualify for an apartment. Landlords do consider other factors when deciding who to rent to. Even so, building good credit can help make getting an apartment easier.

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