If you’ve ever filled out an apartment application, you’ve probably wondered, “Did I fill it out right? Did I give the right answers? When the landlord runs my credit, what are they really looking for?” Given that one in two landlords say that the results of a credit check are among the top three factors used when deciding whether to accept a tenant’s lease application (TransUnion), it’s important that you find out! Get the inside scoop on how landlords may check your credit, what they look for, and how you can position yourself as the best possible candidate to rent the apartment you want!
How do landlords check my credit?
There are several ways landlords can check your credit. The National Association of Independent Landlords offers credit checks for a fee, and there are independent screening services that work to pull data from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Usually, a completed written application is considered permission for landlords to run a credit check, and your application fee includes the cost of this service.
Many people don’t realize that a tenant credit check isn’t your standard report. Tenant credit reports contain a variety of information that can include:
- Identifying information like social security number, marital status, and date of birth
- Rental history and evictions (this varies by state)
- Bankruptcies, tax liens and lawsuits like personal injury claims
- Criminal convictions, sex offender status, OFAC terrorist status
- Late or delinquent payment of rent or bills, including student or car loans
- Debt load, including debt still owed to previous landlords
What exactly are landlords looking for in my credit check?
Bottom line? They’re looking to see that you have the right amount of reliable income and don’t have enough debt to threaten your ability to pay rent on time. They’re looking for consistent payments, ideally over a long period of time across multiple accounts.
You don’t need perfect credit to be approved, but there are certain negatives on your report that could be deal breakers. Car repossessions, credit cards being charged off, bankruptcies, and previous foreclosures could all give landlords a reason to deny your application. Plus, upscale condos or other high-end properties might require a higher credit score.
How can I best position myself to be accepted?
If you don’t have good credit (or any credit), reporting your rent payments to a credit bureau can help build it. Experian was the first credit bureau to start including rental history in credit checks. You can also work on paying down your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) and having any mistakes in your credit history corrected.
You can still get an apartment with bad credit by using a co-signer or possibly offering several months’ rent up front. Of course, there are also other factors besides credit that landlords look at when considering a rental application such as past criminal convictions, leasing history, and income status, so make sure to do your research before you start your apartment search.
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