How to Pass a Rental Credit Check Successfully

With such a competitive rental market to contend with, it can be difficult for applicants with bad credit to find housing. Sometimes a poor credit score is due to difficult circumstances outside of your control, so it can be frustrating when this is the reason you’re denied a rental. However, landlords must run background checks to keep themselves safe and make sure they protect their properties.

If you’re worried, bad credit history doesn’t mean the end of the road. Follow along below to learn more about this process and what you can do to pass an apartment credit check.

Why Do Landlords Require an Apartment Credit Check?

illustration of landlord throwing money and financially responsible tenant. Landlords spend time and money in order to find tenants who are safe and financially responsible through the rental application credit check.

Though it may seem like overkill considering all the other documents required in a rental application, the credit check is actually one of the most important parts of a tenant’s background information. Credit checks are a standard piece of almost every rental application in the U.S. Maintaining a property is very expensive, and finding new tenants is a stressful and time-consuming process.

By doing thorough background research upfront, landlords ensure that they find responsible, financially stable tenants who will be able to pay rent on time each month. Otherwise, landlords and tenants might find themselves in the middle of eviction proceedings, which is painful for everyone involved!

What Information is Included on a Credit Check for Rental Applications?

What red flags indicate to landlords on a rental credit check. Chronic late payments could mean the tenant will pay rent late. A low credit score indicates the tenant is irresponsible with money. An eviction history means the tenant might not pay rent or will be unsafe to neighbors.

Most landlords partner with one of the three major U.S. credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax. These background checks will actually reveal much more about a prospective tenant than just their credit score;  the goal is to discover any suspicious financial activity in the applicant’s background. Rental credit checks will allow landlords to view the following tenant information:

  • Employment history
  • Social security number verification
  • Credit score
  • Payment history
  • Fraud indicators

When analyzing this information, landlords scan for a number of red flags that could indicate the potential tenant wouldn’t be able to pay rent regularly or would be an unsafe addition to the community. These red flags include:

Learn more about this process with our guide to rental credit checks.

Pro Tip:

Most rental application credit checks are soft inquiries, meaning they won’t negatively impact the applicant’s credit score. Hard inquiries are used when opening lines of credit, such as a mortgage or other loans, and too many of this inquiry type will hurt the borrower.

What is the Minimum Credit Score to Rent an Apartment?

credit report recommendations for signing a lease red and green scale. 300-523 is a decline, 524-537 is a decline conditional, 538-559 is a low accept, and anything higher is an accept.

The minimum credit score needed to rent an apartment varies from location to location. Wealthier, more competitive areas will require a higher minimum score, as will new or luxury buildings. However, a good rule of thumb is that most landlords look for a credit score of at least 600. Anything under 600 is considered bad credit, but don’t worry – there are many ways to get around bad credit.

4 Steps to Renting With Bad Credit

icons and suggestion for how to rent with bad credit

Just because you have a low credit score doesn’t mean you’re completely out of luck when it comes to renting a nice place. There are steps you can take to highlight your assets on your rental application. It’s all about showing the landlord that you would be a responsible and respectful tenant, and therefore a good investment for them.

  1. Find a Cosigner: The surest step you can take to getting approved is to have a cosigner or guarantor sign the lease with you. This person will be legally responsible to pay your rent if you are unable to, which will grant the landlord peace of mind.
  2. Offer Advanced Payments: In order to show that you are serious about renting the apartment, you can offer to pay the first month’s rent early. This will show both your financial stability and also incentivize the landlord to take the listing off the market.
  3. Offer More Money: Though this isn’t an ideal solution, you can offer to pay slightly more monthly rent than was initially asked, or offer to pay a double security deposit. Offering more money upfront is a good way to show you are serious about both parties’ investment.
  4. Leave a Paper Trail: Craft a narrative about your financial and job history to show the landlord that you are living a financially responsible life. Even if your credit score is low due to things like student loans, you can provide more documentation than is required to demonstrate to the landlord how you’ve kept up on payments and reduced your debt.

Apartment Credit Check Scams Landlords Should Watch Out For

illustrations for credit check scams landlords should watch out for

Though the rental credit check is meant to protect landlords, there are ways applicants try to get around this process. Landlords, here are a few red flags to watch out for, and tenants, here are a few moves you definitely shouldn’t try if you’re trying to be taken seriously!

  • No previous landlord references: This point is situational, so landlords should use their best judgment when deciding if this is a red flag. It’s one thing if a new college grad doesn’t have any past references, as this is probably their first apartment. However, it would be suspicious if a middle-aged applicant wasn’t able to provide references as it indicates something went wrong with their last rental.
  • Multiple occupants but only one on the lease: A major red flag is if there is going to be one rent-paying adult on the lease, but multiple adults living there. This indicates that the other occupants may have issues in their background checks that they know wouldn’t pass inspection, and it’s important for landlords to know who exactly is living in their units.
  • Cash payments over checks or direct deposit: If an applicant insists on paying rent only in cash, this could imply that they are having financial issues and aren’t able to open a bank account, or that the money is coming from illegal activity. Again, use your best judgment in these situations as it’s possible your tenant is just eccentric or old-fashioned.

How to Pass a Rental Credit Check FAQs

Below are the answers to a few of the most commonly-asked questions when it comes to passing an apartment credit check.

Can I get an apartment with a 500 credit score?

Though this is below the recommended minimum of a 600 credit score, you can get an apartment with a 500 credit score. You may not be able to rent the apartment of your dreams until your credit improves, but you can find a good home to rent by highlighting your other application assets. This includes showing the landlord steady payment and employment histories, along with utilizing the help of a cosigner on the lease.

How can I quickly raise my credit score?

How can I convince my landlord to let me rent with bad credit?

Again, you will need to prove to your landlord that you would be a solid investment for their property, even with a sub-par credit score. You can do this by highlighting the work you’ve been doing to reduce your debt through detailed documentation, along with offering to pay a larger security deposit.

How can I rent with an eviction history?

Having an eviction history is one of the trickiest red flags to work around because it will make other landlords believe you are a bad renter. In this case, the more information you can provide the better.

Explain the situation to your landlord in an application cover letter, highlighting improvements you have made to your financial situation and steps you are taking to live more responsibly. Again, you will probably not be able to rent the apartment of your dreams, but a reasonable landlord will be understanding if you can make a good case for yourself.

How long does it take to hear back about a rental application?

In most cases, it should take two to three days for you to hear back about your application. During this time, landlords are pulling the data from your credit check and analyzing it for any issues, along with reading through the rest of your application materials. In high-turnover markets in major metropolitan areas, the application turnaround time can happen in just a day. If you feel your application is taking a long time to be reviewed, you should feel free to contact your agent or the landlord directly.

Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to raise your credit score in a matter of weeks. This is one issue that takes time and dedication to see results. Make sure you are practicing “financial hygiene” by keeping up on all monthly bills. Avoid spending on credit cards, and consider increasing your credit card limit so that your utilization rate goes down.

The best way to raise your score is to request a credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) and do a deep dive. Clean up any outstanding accounts so that your record is positive. Remember, you get one free credit report per year by law!

We hope this guide helped you learn everything you wanted to know about how to pass a rental credit check. If you need additional information about the tenant screening process, sign up for TurboTenant now.

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