8 Ways to Survive an Apartment Rental Credit Check

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8 Ways to Survive an Apartment Rental Credit Check

By DEB HIPP

So you've found the perfect apartment and can't wait to move. Maybe you're already daydreaming about entertaining in your new place or padding into the kitchen at sunrise to brew some coffee.

Then you hear those dreaded words from the leasing office: "We'll need you to authorize a background and credit check."

What are you to do if you just graduated and don't have a rental history? Or your credit report still shows credit card delinquencies from that lean period a few years back?

Even if you have no credit history or a low credit score, there are still ways you can sign a lease. It may just take a little persuasion, explanation of credit dings and proof that you're a responsible renter.

So don't allow a credit check to scare you away. You might still be able to convince the leasing office that you'll pay your rent on time.

You are more than your credit score.

The chance you'll guess which type of credit score will be used for the tenant screening is as likely as "catching lightning in a bottle," says Terry Clemans, executive director of the National Consumer Reporting Association, a nonprofit trade organization of consumer reporting agencies and associated professionals.

It could be a FICO score, VantageScore or another model entirely. Screening may only be based off one credit bureau's information or combine information from multiple credit bureaus, depending on which screening company is used and what type of report the landlord requests.

Fortunately, you don't need to live the rest of your life with Mom and Dad just because you have no or poor credit. Here are eight things you can do to bolster your chances of signing that apartment lease.

1. Know where you stand.

Before apartment shopping, it's a good idea to get your free Equifax and TransUnion credit scores and reports from Credit Karma. You can also get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus every year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

"Look at legitimate, free sources" says Clemans. "Don't buy a score."

2. Take a closer look.

Your credit scores are calculated using information from your credit reports, so it's important to ensure that your reports accurately represent your credit history. Look for incorrect items that can be disputed.

3. Be upfront about credit issues.

When it comes to credit checks, there may be flexibility depending on the property management, says Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a nonprofit financial counseling organization.

"You may have a back story not relayed in the limited information of the report," says McClary. "Giving them information about why there are delinquencies and what you're doing to correct them can make all the difference in the world."

4. Provide alternate proof of good credit history.

Consider providing copies of your cellphone and utilities payment history and information about accounts missing from your credit report to show you've been making regular payments. You could also provide a bank statement showing you have a financial cushion, even if it's small.

5. Shop in several neighborhoods.

Credit requirements might vary, depending on the apartment's location and type of building. "If the apartment is in a low-income area, the apartment owner may lower the requirement," says Dan Faller, owner of Apartment Owners Association of California, a business that sells tenant-screening services to apartment owners. So if you're unable to secure your dream apartment, don't fret -- you may still be approved elsewhere.

6. Get a co-signer or a roommate.

You might consider having your parents co-sign if their credit is good, says Faller. Alternatively, consider a roommate with good credit, which could give you a year to straighten out your credit kinks and build a solid rental history. If you go this route, keep in mind that those relationships could be negatively affected if you fall behind on rent.

7. Pay more upfront.

If you have the money to spare, you can offer to pay three or four months' rent ahead of time or hand over a higher deposit. More money in advance may convince a leasing agent to rent to you despite any perceived credit risk. Be sure the extra money you pay is documented in the lease or other rental forms.

8. Show that you've taken steps toward rental responsibility.

It may help to demonstrate that you're taking steps to get your credit back on track by seeking free rental or credit counseling at a nonprofit organization. "Working with a credit counselor demonstrates seriousness about resolving a credit problem and can make the difference for a property manager in considering whether you get an apartment," says McClary.

Bottom Line

Apartment owners may consider more than your credit score when conducting a background and credit check. Stay on top of your credit report so it accurately reflects your credit history, and find alternative proof that you've paid accounts on time, if necessary. It may also help to seek rental or credit counseling to demonstrate that you're serious about being a responsible tenant.

About the Author: Deb Hipp is a freelance writer in Kansas City. When she's not writing personal finance and news articles or essays, she enjoys traveling to seaside destinations, volunteering at animal shelters and cheering for the Kansas City Royals.

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