Renting Apartments and Credit: A Guide to Credit Scores and Reports

Whether you are renting an apartment for the first time or are a seasoned renter, you know that the state of your credit score plays a major role in the leasing approval process. However, what you might not know is all of the details when it comes to accessing and understanding the state of your credit. Use these tips from ApartmentSearch.com as guidelines to learn about your own credit and make sure that the application and approval process when renting is a much better experience. Here are some of the most common questions renters might have about credit scores and credit reports.

What is a credit report?

First, it’s important to note that there is a difference between your credit report and your credit score.  Your credit report is a history, while your credit score is a specific numerical value (see below).  Credit reports document your credit history and the status of your credit accounts, which can include bill payment, loans, credit cards, and outstanding debt.

Where can I get my credit report?

If you want to get a free credit report, you can order a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) for free once every 12 months.  AnnualCreditReport.com is the only source authorized by Federal law to give you this free annual score. 

What is my credit score?

Your credit score is a number between 300 and 850.  This number is indicative of your financial history with credit, which can include debt amounts, the length of your credit history, types of credit, and amounts of new credit.  850 is a perfect credit score, an average credit score tends to be in the range of 620-679, and if your credit score falls below 620, you may be considered high risk.  Your score is usually accessible for a small fee when you order your free annual credit report. For more regular credit monitoring, there are services like FreeScoresUSA and CreditScorePro that you can subscribe to for a fee for credit score updates.

Why do apartments check your credit? What do they look for?

When you fill out a rental application for an apartment, the apartment’s landlord will most likely run a credit check to see your financial history.  This is because your credit report and your credit score tell a potential landlord how reliable you will be as an apartment renter when paying your bills every month.  Some of the things landlords look for in a credit check include your credit score, whether you pay your bills on time, your rental history, and whether you have any debt (and how much debt compared to your income).

How can I improve my credit score?

Because your credit score is based on a number of factors, and your credit report is a cumulative documentation of your financial history, there are a lot of things you can do to get a better credit score. 

  • Start by keeping up with your credit score when you order your credit reports.  You can order all three free reports at once and then subscribe to a monitoring service for a fee to get updates.  If you do this it will be easier to check for inconsistencies. You can also consider spacing out your free annual reports over the course of the year so you can keep tabs on your credit without charge.
  • Next, be sure to pay your bills on time, since this factor accounts for around 35% of your credit score.  If you know in advance that you will have to miss a payment, contact the lender and see if you can set up a payment plan.
  • You should also limit your use of multiple cards.  Cut back to just a few, but don’t cut up the old cards. Instead, only use them every few months and pay off the balance immediately.  Your credit looks better if you have a lot of credit but have only used a little.
  • Last, be prudent about opening new cards.  Opening a new card creates a “hard inquiry” on your credit report, and too many of these can negatively affect your credit score.  It is best to limit hard inquiries if your credit is already unstable.

For more help managing your finances as a renter, visit the ApartmentSearch.com Moving Center.

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