What credit score do you need to rent an apartment?

Your credit scores can be important when you’re looking to rent an apartment. That’s because the landlord or property manager may check your credit as part of a tenant screening report. Your credit history can show them how you’ve managed money in the past and help them determine whether you might be a responsible tenant.

Some landlords and property managers may look for tenants with at least a fair or good credit score. And while meeting minimum credit score requirements doesn’t necessarily guarantee approval, knowing what they look for could help you position yourself as a great rental candidate.

Key takeaways

  • Having a good credit score could help you get approved to rent an apartment.
  • Landlords and property managers may also use tenant screening reports, with information like rental history and employment verification, to make rental decisions.
  • If you’re still building or establishing credit, then getting a co-signer or guarantor, applying with a roommate, providing additional documentation or paying a higher security deposit may help you get approved.

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What are credit scores and how do they affect renters?

Credit scores help lenders predict how likely someone is to pay back a loan on time, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Credit bureaus calculate your credit scores using information from your credit reports

Credit scores might also influence whether you’ll be approved for a rental.

FICO® and VantageScore® credit scores typically range from 300 to 850. And having a higher credit score may show landlords that an applicant manages their finances responsibly. A lower credit score might indicate the potential tenant could struggle to pay rent on time.

Keep in mind that you have multiple credit scores, and each is calculated using a different scoring model. Scoring companies like FICO and VantageScore even have different versions of their own scores. So you might see slightly different scores depending on what model was used.

What landlords and property managers may look for on credit reports

In addition to checking credit scores, landlords and property managers also might look at a potential tenant’s credit reports. That’s because credit reports can provide a more complete picture of the applicant’s financial history.

Keep in mind that if a landlord or property manager checks your credit, it could result in a hard inquiry. And hard inquiries may temporarily impact your credit scores.

Here are some of the things landlords and property managers might look for on a credit report:

  • Rental and payment history: If rental history is reported to credit bureaus, the information may show up on credit reports. The information could also be reflected in tenant screening reports
  • Collection items and public records: “The things most likely to be deal breakers are usually evictions, unpaid utilities and bankruptcy,” says real estate investor Gabby Wallace. “Most managers are more understanding of debt like student loans, medical bills or credit card debt.”

Can you rent an apartment with a low credit score?

Not all landlords and property managers look at credit scores. And factors other than your credit reports and scores could still help you qualify for an apartment.

Landlords want to make sure potential tenants have enough income to handle rent payments, so they might verify your employment. According to the CFPB, landlords and property managers might also do a background check using a tenant screening agency. Both employment verification and background checks can be important factors in whether an applicant is approved.

“If the [credit] score is close but not quite there, I would look at the application as a whole,” Wallace says. “For example, a stable income and clean background report help.”

Tips for renting with new credit or bad credit

If you have low credit scores or are new to credit, here are a few ways you may be able to increase your chances of being approved to rent:

  • Find a co-signer or guarantor. A co-signer or guarantor is someone who agrees to also take responsibility for rent payments if you can’t pay them. But while a co-signer is responsible for any missed rent payments, a guarantor is typically only on the hook if the renter defaults on their lease or breaks it early. Co-signers and guarantors’ credit may also be affected by the renter’s behavior. So it’s good to talk about the risks beforehand.
  • Apply with a roommate. With a roommate’s additional income and creditworthiness on the rental application, you may have a better chance of being approved.
  • Provide additional documentation. Documents like an employer reference, on-time utility payments, recent pay stubs and rental history may help assure landlords that you can make rent payments on time.
  • Pay a higher security deposit. Many renters pay a refundable security deposit—often equal to one month’s rent—that can be withheld to cover unpaid rent or damages. If your credit isn’t where it needs to be, you may need to pay a larger security deposit.
  • Look for a private landlord. Some property management companies might automatically rule out candidates with poor credit. But there are also individual, private property managers or homeowners who may have their own renter requirements.

Ways to help improve your credit scores to rent an apartment

Credit scores can change over time. Here are a few ways you can show responsible credit use and help improve your credit scores:

  • Pay on time. According to both FICO and VantageScore, your payment history can be a significant factor in determining your credit scores. Setting up automatic payments can help ensure you don’t miss a payment due date.
  • Pay more than the minimum. Making only your credit card minimum payments comes with a cost: interest charges. Interest can add up, cost you more money in the long run and even make it harder to pay off debt. The CFPB recommends paying more than the minimum payment and paying off your entire balance each month whenever possible. 
  • Keep your balances low. The CFPB recommends that you not spend more than 30% of your available credit. A low credit utilization ratio—a measure of how much of your available credit you’re using—could be a sign that you’re using your credit responsibly and not overspending. And that could help you improve your score.
  • Only apply for the credit you need. Applying for new credit can trigger a hard inquiry. And while one hard inquiry will generally only affect your scores by a few points, too many hard inquiries may have a larger negative impact. So it’s a good idea to think carefully before taking out a loan or opening a new credit card so you can limit hard inquiries. 

FAQ on credit scores and apartment rentals

Still have questions about renting and credit scores? Here’s some more information:

It may be possible to get approved to rent an apartment with no credit history by getting a co-signer or guarantor, applying with a roommate, providing additional documentation, paying a larger security deposit or finding a private landlord.

It’s also a good idea to start building credit as soon as you can. There are many ways to build your credit from scratch. And using a credit card to build credit is one option. With responsible use over time, the Platinum Secured credit card from Capital One can help cardholders build or establish credit. If you’re approved, you can open the account by making a security deposit. Over time, you could earn the deposit back and upgrade to an unsecured card.

You could also see whether you’re pre-approved for a credit card without impacting your scores.

Before renting an apartment, it’s important to consider how much rent you can afford. Building a budget is a good place to start. Don’t forget to include expenses like moving costs, monthly utilities and any new furniture or appliances you’ll need.

You may also want to look into getting renters insurance, which can protect you from liability and your personal property from damage. 

And before you sign on the dotted line, read the entire lease agreement carefully. Make sure you fully understand the terms you’re legally agreeing to. Still have questions? Learn more about what every future tenant should know.

Credit scores needed to rent an apartment in a nutshell

Your credit may be a factor that landlords and property managers use to help determine whether to accept you as a tenant. And since having a higher credit score might increase your chances of being approved to rent, it may help to learn how to improve your credit scores.

Not sure where your credit stands as you look to rent an apartment? With CreditWise from Capital One, you can access your free TransUnion® credit report and VantageScore 3.0 credit score anytime—without hurting your credit scores. And CreditWise is free for everyone, even if you’re not a Capital One cardholder.

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