Renting When Your Credit Score Won’t Vouch for You
by Carly Rae Zent
You have low credit, but need a place to live. What else can you do to lock in a lease?
Everybody needs a place to live, but unfortunately, low credit scores make potential landlords nervous.
Some landlords may feel a low credit score is an indication the tenant is more likely to lapse on rent. If you fall into this camp, it might make it hard to find a place to rent if landlords keep passing on your application for someone else’s with a better credit score.
Luckily, there are ways to find a great place to rent regardless of your score. If you’re currently struggling with a low score, follow these tips for negotiating with the landlord.
Be upfront and communicate
It’s best your potential landlord is not taken by surprise when they run your credit report. When you file your application, be upfront about your credit score and why it is low. After all, not every credit score is low because of missed payments. Maybe you divorced recently; maybe you were sick, and have medical debt; maybe you fell victim to a predatory payday loan or title loan and took a dent in your score. You should also discuss your current plan for addressing your credit score and keeping up with future payments. Maybe you recently lost your job, but you’ve found another one, so your credit score will go back up, or maybe you’ve formulated a payment plan. Let them know.
If you have proof of reliable income, or an impressive savings account balance, now is the time to show proof of that in order to demonstrate you will have the funds available to cut a rent check every month.
Communicating with your potential landlord during the beginning of the application process will make you seem responsible and aware. This will give them more reassurance that you will be a great tenant who reliably makes on-time payments. Discussing your situation will provide more information to help them decide whether to make an exception to their credit score rules and rent to you.
Ask a reference to vouch for you
Your past landlords — if they have high opinions of you — will be able to reassure your future landlords that they have nothing to worry about by renting to you. When discussing your low credit score, include the phone number of at least one person who will be able to share that you’ve kept up with payments in the past. Also ask your references to vouch for your character — they can let future landlords know that you take good care of the house, are clean and respectful, and are a great tenant.
References will help landlords get that whole-picture view of what kind of tenant you are and make it more likely to view you as a great tenant.
Find a roommate or guarantor with better credit
If you’re renting a two-bedroom, see if you can find a roommate to sign the lease who has better credit than you. Seeing that one person on the lease has a good credit history will provide the potential landlord with extra reassurance the rent will get paid on time.
Getting a co-signing guarantor is also a great idea, especially if you plan to rent alone. A guarantor is someone who the landlord can legally hold accountable for rent, even if they aren’t necessarily living with you. Ask someone who trusts you to back up your lease with their great credit score by taking on the guarantor role. This is an especially common move for those who are young or renting for the first time and have no credit history at all.
There are also companies that offer co-signing a lease as a service, but do your research before working with one. Not every such company will be legitimate.
Offer a larger security deposit
Some landlords already have set policies that say they will charge higher security deposits to tenants with lower credit scores. You can get ahead of the game and help reassure your landlord by going ahead and offering a larger security deposit that is 50% more than or double the normal deposit.
A higher security deposit ensures that the landlord is going into the transaction with less risk — if you end up not being able to pay rent, then they can absorb the security deposit to make up for any lost profits or cash.
If you can save up even more, consider paying several months’ rent at once.
Seek rentals that don’t require credit checks
Believe it or not, not every potential landlord will perform a credit check. Just as there are no-credit-check loans, there are also no-credit-check landlords. If you do your research, you might be able to find such a landlord in your area.
Landlords who are most likely to take a chance on a tenant without a credit check are individual or small-time local landlords. Faceless property management organizations with hundreds of properties are more likely to rely on black-and-white policies to choose tenants —meaning they might choose to turn you down for having a low credit score no matter how awesome you are otherwise.
Finding landlords who don’t mind low credit scores or not checking credit at all can be done by:
- Asking your friends for recommendations
- Submitting a post with your housing requirements in neighborhood groups on Facebook or Nextdoor
- Driving through neighborhoods in search of “for rent” signs
- Looking in areas with less competitive rental markets. Landlords might be more likely to take low credit score renters if they have fewer tenant options.
- Looking on listing sites like Craigslist and Zillow (Be sure to avoid rental scams for this one. Sometimes scammers will post fake properties aiming at low-income or poor-credit tenants in order to steal information.)
Remember: It’s not all about credit
Great credit scores are not the only things that landlords look for in a tenant. They look at the whole picture of an individual’s character. If you’re struggling a little financially, but you have no criminal history and you’re communicative and respectful, then a landlord might just give you a chance.
With these tools and tips in arm, you’re ready to face the world of home rental — no matter what your credit score may be. Good luck!
Struggling with other rent-related questions? Check out these articles for those who are either renters or looking for someone to take on a lease: