How Much Rent Can College Students Afford?

While not always easy, the payoffs of renting are totally worth it.

Before signing a lease, however, you have to answer an important question: How much rent can I afford?

Start with income

Any student knows that going to school is basically a full-time job. That doesn’t mean that students don’t frequently take on other jobs to make ends meet. In fact, Georgetown University reports that more than 70 percent of college students have a job at some point while enrolled.

Before a rental will approve you to live there, you’ll most often have to prove your income. Landlords and property management companies want to be sure that you can actually manage to pay your rent every month. How much rent you can afford is tied heavily to how much money you take home each month.

No matter the source of your income, you should make sure your rent costs never exceed 30 percent of your net monthly earnings.

If you’re bringing in $2,000 per month, try to keep your monthly rent under $600.

Some rentals will even come earmarked with income requirements. Landlords can set almost any standard for earnings based on their personal preferences. The bottom line is that you’ll need a steady flow of provable income before you’ll be able to gain the independence of an off-campus place.

Don’t forget the utility costs

When you live in a dorm room, you’re often presented with a turnkey room. Another nice part about living in a college dorm is that everything is included under one flat fee.

The same is not true with an off-campus rental. If you live in a house or apartment, you may need to pay for utility deposits and activation fees. There will likely be a separate fee for gas, water, electric, internet, cable and any other necessary utilities.

Here’s an estimate of what you might expect to pay in a one-bedroom apartment. Some of these prices might vary based on location and what’s included in your rent.

UtilityEstimated Monthly Cost
Heating or Air Conditioning$40
Electricity$65
Water$40
Cable/internet$100
Trash$10
Total$255

Related: Download a budget worksheet

On top of that, you may need to make an initial investment in furniture. If you’ve spent the last year or more sleeping in a bunk bed and living out of a small armoire, you might not even realize how much furniture you need to fill a traditional home or apartment. You can do this frugally, but it’s still a cost that’s important to consider.

Perhaps the largest fee you can expect to incur upon renting an off-campus space is the security deposit. Some dorms require this and some don’t, so you may or may not be familiar. A security despot is basically a lump sum of money that you pay to your landlord. The landlord keeps this money until your lease is over as a safeguard against unpaid rent or damages incurred during residence. On average, the security deposit is equal to the cost of a month’s rent.

Get by with a little help from your friends

If you’re worried about how much rent you can afford because of the amount of money you make, consider snagging an off-campus rental with a roommate or roommates. Consider this scenario using Rent.com’s available rental inventory as of June 2019:

  • The average monthly price in the U.S. for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,383
  • If you get a two-bedroom unit and split the rent equally with a roommate, your individual monthly responsibility drops to about $825

If you don’t know anyone who is also in need of housing off-campus, you can use an online roommate matching service or check local classified ads for renters looking for a tenant under their existing lease. If you decide to rent with strangers, always be mindful of potential scams.

You can always get help from home, as well

If you’re unable to prove a substantial income and also aren’t interested in renting with other college students, you can consider getting a co-signer on your lease. If your parents or another close friend or family member are willing to co-sign a lease with you, you can include their income with yours when apartment hunting.

This does involve a small amount of risk, as whoever is on the lease can be held liable for missed or late rent payments, even if the co-signer of the lease lives across the country.

Don’t forget your other expenses

College students tend to spend a lot of money, some responsibly and some not. Regardless, be honest with yourself and think about how much money you spend outside of your rent costs. Things like entertainment, groceries, transportation, cost for books and even tuition should all be factored in. The hippest, trendiest apartment is not worth bankruptcy and ruining your credit.

To mitigate some of these costs, take advantage of promotions and package deals. Especially as a college student, if you look you can almost always find some sort of discount.

Many units will include utilities in the monthly rent costs which will save you money in the long run. Other units may offer a free or discounted first month — just make sure you understand the terms before agreeing to anything.

Look for local landlords

There’s a difference between a property management company and a private landlord, and college students may see this distinction better than anyone. Landlords renting a privately-owned home will often be more understanding and accessible when renting to college students than a property management company would be. Plus, neighborhoods nearby colleges and universities tend to be full of private rental homes and apartments.

Regardless of your decision, understanding how much rent you can afford is the first step when considering an off-campus rental. Review your income, weigh the pros and cons of your various housing options and make an informed decision. As long as you follow our expert advice, you’ll pass “Renting 101” with an A+.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
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Timothy HarrisTimothy Harris is a freelance writer based in Albuquerque. He brings a professional background in event marketing, residential real estate and journalism to the table to provide useful and relevant content for the modern renter. Timothy has previously written content for Karsten & Associates in New Mexico and Up 'til Dawn, a philanthropic fundraiser that benefits St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

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