Having bad credit can come back to haunt you in inconvenient ways. Getting denied for a credit card and receiving loan offers with sky high interest rates are just a few of the unfortunate consequences of a low credit score. But even more alarming is that more and more landlords are performing credit checks before choosing a tenant to lease an apartment.
If your credit is bad, you might even have difficulty finding a place to live. But you still need a roof over your head, so what’s the best way to get yourself out of this situation? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can get an apartment even if you have bad credit.
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Find Out What’s On Your Credit Report
Even before you start apartment hunting, it’s a good idea to get a copy of your credit report and see what kind of information is listed there. You can order a free copy from the three credit bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com — it’s a fast and easy process and can be done all online.
However, if you’re trying to quickly increase your score, the credit bureau’s allowed response time for disputes increases from 30 days to 45 days when you use the free website.
There are a few important reasons to check your credit report when looking for an apartment. One is to know exactly what your potential landlord is seeing so you can address any issues or concerns. The second is so you know how to raise your score.
Another good reason to check your credit report? To make sure the information there is actually accurate! A 2012 study from the Federal Trade Commission found that 26% of participants reported potential errors on their credit report. So there’s a fair chance you might find a mistake on yours, and it could be hurting your credit score.
Check your report to make sure each item in accurate and up-to-date. Also, educate yourself on how long certain items should remain on your credit report; if you see something older than seven or 10 years, it’s probably time to open a dispute with the credit bureau.
Start Improving Your Score
Even if you credit score is bad now, there are plenty of steps you can take to get it back on the upswing, which helps your ability to get an apartment now and further down the road. Some items take time to correct, but there are a few good habits you can implement right now that will get your score back on an upward trajectory.
Start off by making sure you pay all of your bills on time. Whether or not you make timely payments is the largest contributing factor to your credit score. Once a bill is past 30 days due, your credit score can take a huge hit. But over time, consistent payments start to have a positive impact. Prevent further damage to your score now and help your future score by paying your bills on time and in full.
If you have delinquent accounts, work with your creditor or collection agency to get the account back in good standing. You can use several negotiating tactics, such as paying a lump sum in exchange for removing the derogatory item from your credit report.
If you need help, consider hiring a credit repair agency to figure out the best way to get rid of those negative items on your credit report. Even if you’re looking for an apartment now, it’s always smart to think about the future as well.
Explain Any Negative Items
Once you know what’s on your credit report and you’ve fixed any potential errors, you may still have some negative items on your credit report. When you’re applying for an apartment, the best thing to do is directly address these items in a letter to your potential landlord. This is especially true if you were in a one-time situation that caused you to have temporary financial hardship.
Maybe you lost a job or had to take care of a sick relative. Whatever the reason, explain what happened and why you are in a better financial position today. Even if your bad credit was due to reckless spending, you could try admitting to a temporary flaw in judgment and point out evidence that shows your changed behavior. Obviously, the older your negative items on your credit report, the better case you can make for a change of heart.
Provide a Recommendation
Another piece of supplemental information you can include in your application is a letter of recommendation. Ideally, you’d want to use a former landlord who can attest to your history of paying your rent on time each month.
Even if someone has the ability to pay their rent, that doesn’t mean they have the willingness, so a real-life testimonial can go a long way in proving your character to a landlord. In addition to your timely payments, your reference could also include information on your living habits — being clean and quiet is a plus to any landlord looking to avoid a headache-inducing tenant.
Get a Leg-up on Your Competition
There are a few ways you can make your application shine compared to other parties interested in the same apartment, especially if you have bad credit. To start off, you could offer the landlord a larger security deposit. That shows the landlord you are unlikely to skip out on rent because you’d lose out on a larger chunk of cash.
The normal requirement is a deposit equal to one month of rent. If you can, offer one and a half or even two months of rent. You’ll get the money back when you move out and it can indicate that you’re serious about being a responsible tenant.
If the landlord still has concerns, offer to do a trial run with a three or six-month lease and prove that you can pay on time. A final nudge to be selected for the apartment is to offer a fast move in to reduce the landlord’s vacancy time. An empty apartment equates to a month of lost income, so poise yourself as a solution to that problem.
Stay in the Right Price Range
One of the largest factors a landlord uses to decide on a tenant is your rent-to-income ratio. This number is determined by the cost of rent divided by your monthly income (before taxes). Ideally, landlords like to see that ratio no higher than 35%.
If it’s any higher, they could be concerned about your ability to pay the rent each month, even if you know your budget allows you to afford it. If you want to strengthen your application even more, find a less expensive apartment to demonstrate that you have a sizeable buffer in your monthly budget.
Avoid Property Managers
Many large real estate and property management firms make money off of managing rental properties either owned by individuals or by the company itself. Because larger companies tend to have more set rules in place, you could benefit from focusing your apartment search on those managed by the actual owner. You’ll be able to make a more emotional connection with the person, and they’ll probably have less of an institutional mindset as a property manager.
Even if the owner has specific criteria for a tenant, they can bend their own rules more easily than an employee can bend his or her boss’s rules. Plus, an individual owner has their own money at stake each month, so if they are eager to fill a vacancy, you have a better chance of appealing to their need to get a paycheck each month.
Get a Co-Signer
One final tip for getting an apartment with bad credit is to enlist the help of a co-signer. This is a friend or relative with good credit who signs the lease with you, even though they won’t live at the apartment with you. You’re both held equally responsible for the rent, so if neither of you makes the payments, you can both be sued by the landlord.
Having an eviction stays on your credit report for a long time. That’s why it’s important to choose a co-signer with whom you have a strong and trusting relationship. It’s not worth ruining a friendship over the rent, but having someone sign the lease with you might be better than crashing on their couch until your credit improves. Just remember to proceed with caution if you choose to go down this route.
Bad credit might feel like a roadblock to a lot of things, and finding an apartment is no exception. However, there are several actionable steps you can take to strengthen your application and be chosen by a landlord. Be sure to play the numbers game and apply for several apartments.
It might take a few tries, but if you submit a strong application and aim to be flexible to the landlord’s needs, you should eventually get approved for an apartment. And remember — even after you find the right place for now, work to improve your credit so you can enjoy an easier process the next time you’re ready to move.