An apartment search is a tricky task with the albatross of bad credit hanging around your neck. But take heart, apartment-searcher: your credit score is not beyond repair. Whether you’re in the throes of an apartment search or you just want to get your credit score back on the right track, there’s hope for you yet.
The truth is that the best thing you can do for your credit score (and your apartment search) is establish good habits when it comes to keeping track of your finances. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry—let’s break it down. Here are 5 ways to get a better credit score and get on with your apartment search.
1. Keep up with Your Credit Score
The first step to a having a better credit score is knowing your current credit score. As we mentioned in Apartment Credit Scores 101, you can actually order a free copy of your credit score once per year from each of the 3 credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). Report any mistakes you find, and evaluate which areas need improvement. If you want more information or recurring updates on your credit score, sign up for a service that sends you regular reports.
2. Pay Your Bills on Time
Late fees and missed payments look bad on a credit report, and repeated fees and payments look even worse. In fact, bill-paying makes up about 35% of your credit score. Paying your bills on time helps you establish good credit and a positive payment history so your apartment search won’t be quite as tough. Here are 3 ways to get started:
- Receive and pay your bills online. Gone are the days when paper statements and stamps were your only option. If you’ve been known to neglect your snail mail box, get your statements sent to you via email. You’ll never have to buy stamps again, and it’s easy to click from your inbox directly to online payments.
- Set up automated payments. Lots of services, whether apartment-related or otherwise, allow you to set up automated payments that withdraw money directly from your bank account when collection day comes around. If this idea makes you nervous, start by automating smaller bills.
- Set reminders for yourself. In an age of smartphones and online planning tools, a helping digital hand is never out of reach. If you have trouble accounting for your bills, utilize online calendar alerts, sites like Bill Tracker Online or Mint.com, or even reminder apps like BillMinder and BillTracker to stay on top of your payments.
3. If You Have to Miss a Payment…
If you know that you’re going to be late on a payment, call the lender ahead of time, explain the situation, and see if you can set up a payment plan. You may be able to avoid a negative hit to your credit report.
4. Be Careful about Opening New Credit Cards
When you open a new card, you get a “hard inquiry” (or “hard pull”) on your credit report. This kind of inquiry indicates that you are applying to receive a loan or line of credit. Too many of these hard inquiries on a report can negatively affect your score. Don’t open more cards than you have to. Likewise, if you are opening a secured card, make sure there aren’t enormous fees attached.
5. Be Smart about Your Old Cards
What if you already have lots of cards open, but want to scale back? You’re on the right track, so go ahead and limit the number of cards you use, but don’t cut up the old cards just yet. Put them in the back of your wallet and only use them every few months or so, then pay off the balance immediately when you do. This looks good in the eyes of credit scoring companies, which value an account that has a lot of credit available but only a little of that credit in use.
Starting an apartment search with credit on your mind? ApartmentSearch.com has some excellent resources. Our Moving Center is full of ways to get a handle on your credit, and the Apartment Life blog is full of more great posts that can help. Start by reading about how to rent with bad credit and what your rental history means for your credit. Keep an eye on the ApartmentSearch.com blog this month for more tips about renting with credit.