Assume for a moment you and another applicant are looking at the same apartment. You have a good score (700s), while the other guy has an excellent score (800s). Everything else, like finances, being equal, it would make sense for the landlord to choose the other guy with the higher credit score. And in competitive markets like San Francisco or New York City excellent credit is crucial.
Landlords in these desirable markets may sometimes even require a minimum credit score to be able to rent in their buildings. Generally speaking, the higher the rent, the better credit you’ll need. Landlords or property management companies want reassurance that you can pay your rent on time and you’re responsible. A solid credit history and excellent credit score are two ways to show this.
If you’re dealing with a bad score or no credit score at all, you’ll probably have a harder time renting an apartment. It’s probably best to hold off until you can raise your score.
Your FICO credit score
You’ve probably heard of a credit scoring model called FICO, which stands for Fair Isaac Corporation. This is a popular credit scoring model used by many lenders when determining your creditworthiness.
A FICO score ranges from 300 to 850. Generally speaking, anything over 740 is considered excellent, anything below 650 is considered fair.
Technically, a score of 620 would be considered a fair score in the eyes of FICO. It’s definitely not the best score you can get, and if your credit falls in this range you should work to improve it.
So, what kind of credit do you need to rent an apartment? There’s no set number, but just to give you an idea, you’re probably going to need a 740 score or higher to rent in a hot rental market.
How to raise your credit score
If you want to raise your credit score before you search for an apartment, here are some quick tips to help you:
- Pay your bills on time
- Pay more than the minimum amount for credit cards or pay them off (this will improve your credit utilization ratio)
- Ask a close friend or family member if you can be added as an authorized user on one of their credit cards
- Sign up for a secured credit card that reports to all three credit bureaus
- If you’re currently renting, ask your property manager if they can report your on-time rental payments to the bureaus
Join the super-prime club
While raising your credit score, just keep going until you get your credit to at least 750 or higher. This would put you in what’s called the “super prime” category.
The three major credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, each calculate your scores a little differently. In order to be considered super-prime for Experian, you need a score of 740 or above. Those who fall in the 680 to 739 are considered prime.
Having a super-prime credit score means you may qualify for lower interest rates for credit cards, a mortgage, car loan and even that charming rental in that cute little tree-lined neighborhood.
Tips for how to rent in a hot market with a so-so score
If you don’t have time to improve your score before you start an apartment search, here are a few tactics you can try to persuade your potential landlord to rent to you.
- Be prepared with the right paperwork. Print out your credit report and credit score. Have your application filled out and bring recent pay stubs.
- If there are any blemishes on your report, explain why. Sometimes, a simple explanation goes a long way.
- If you can, offer to pay some of your upcoming rent (i.e. three months’ worth) in a lump sum. This might help put your landlord at ease and make you a more desirable tenant.
Be sure to monitor your credit with a free credit monitoring site – your credit card issuer or bank may offer this for free.
In addition to checking your credit score, make sure to review your credit report. The three bureaus give you a free credit report every year. You can access your reports by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Stagger the three reports throughout the year so you can check up on any suspicious activity, such as a credit card account that may have been opened in your name.
Monitoring your credit and working to improve it may help your chances of renting an apartment, especially if you want to rent in a big city.