What Credit Score Do You Need to Rent an Apartment?

Your credit score can play a key role in whether or not you’ll be approved to rent an apartment, but it’s not the sole determining factor.

By Megan Doyle | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

6 Min Read | November 1, 2021 in Credit Score

 

At-A-Glance

To rent an apartment, you’ll likely need a minimum credit score of 650 to boost your chances of approval. 

Generally speaking, the more competitive the rental market, the higher your credit score needs to be.

Besides credit score, your credit history, rental history, and income will also be important factors in the approval equation.

If you’re thinking about getting your first apartment, you might not know that many landlords or leasing offices opt to run a credit check to get a sense of whether they can expect you to pay your rent on time and in full. This means that your credit score can play a role in determining your ability to rent the apartment of your dreams – especially if you’re looking to rent in a competitive real estate market like Boston, San Francisco, or Seattle.

 
But what’s the best credit score range to rent an apartment? And what can you do if you have less-than-stellar credit – or no credit history at all?

 

What Credit Score Do You Need to Rent an Apartment?

Most sources suggest a minimum FICO credit score of 650 is a common benchmark for landlords and leasing agencies. Similarly, a 2020 analysis of tenant screening data found that approved renters had an average VantageScore credit score of 638.1 But it’s usually the case that the higher your credit score, the better your chances of approval.

 
Though 650 is a good starting point, you may need a higher credit score in especially competitive housing markets. For example, 710 was the average credit score to rent an apartment in San Francisco, 716 in Boston, and 706 in Seattle, according to the same 2020 analysis.

 

Why Does Credit Matter When Renting an Apartment?

Your credit score can affect the likelihood of being approved for an apartment because the higher your score, the lower your risk profile. Your history of on-time credit payments, for example, makes up a large portion of your credit score – signaling to landlords that you’ll pay your rent on time, too.

 
But your credit score is often just a starting point for landlords. They also might obtain your credit report to get a glimpse into your debts and any past bankruptcy, or look at your rental history and income, for example. But it’s things like defaulted accounts or debts in collection that’ll hurt your chances of approval the most.2 Think about it: It makes sense that a landlord may be hesitant to sign a lease with a renter who’s been evicted in the past, has no source of steady income, or has a history of delinquent accounts.

 

How Landlords Might Check Your Credit

If your potential landlord is planning to check your credit score, they’ll likely make an inquiry with one of the three main credit bureaus, and you may have to pay a fee. Of course, if your credit is frozen, you’ll have to unfreeze it first. To learn how, read “How to Unfreeze Credit for Free.”


And take note: Each time someone runs a hard credit check, you might see your credit score dip. This means that applying for multiple apartments – all with landlords who check your credit – will likely have a temporary negative impact on your credit score, so applying for fewer places may be healthier for your credit report. 

 

Getting Your First Apartment with No Credit or Poor Credit

It’s possible to rent your first apartment even if you have no credit (or if you have poor credit), but you might have to adjust your expectations or put in a little extra work to win brownie points with your future landlord. Here are a few ways you may be able to increase your chances of approval:

  • Get a roommate. Signing a lease with another person spreads the burden of responsibility and can improve your chances of approval – as long as your roommate is financially responsible. Splitting rent can also be cost-effective.
  • Use a cosigner. When I was 22, my landlord-to-be was hesitant to approve my lease due to my limited credit history. My roommate asked her mother to cosign the lease as an added layer of assurance, and we were approved.
  • Pay extra. If you have limited credit but a lot of savings, making a larger security deposit or paying a few months of rent in advance may give the landlord peace of mind.
  • Provide references. Letters of recommendation from reliable sources like employers and business associates can help demonstrate your credibility. Similarly, proof of employment – like pay stubs that go back several months – can show you have a source of steady income.
  • Tweak your expectations. If you’re having trouble getting an apartment with no credit, try looking for options in a lower price range. “The apartment you want and the apartment you qualify for may differ,” notes the Experian credit reporting agency.3
  • Build your credit. Building your credit can take time, but good credit can be necessary for achieving certain financial goals like renting an apartment. Fortunately, there are many ways to build your credit.

In my experience, it’s worth noting that credit scores and credit history aren’t always crucial for renting an apartment. I’ve signed five leases with landlords who didn’t check my credit, but they were in rural areas. It wasn’t until I moved to a more densely populated area outside of New York City that credit scores – and other factors – played a major role in my apartment-renting process. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore your credit history; I’ve learned that having good credit comes in handy throughout your life.

 

The Takeaway

If you’re looking to rent an apartment, remember that many landlords factor credit score and credit history into their decision-making process. The average credit score of U.S. renters was 638 in 2020, but is higher in more competitive rental markets. Although you’re more likely to be approved for an apartment if you have a higher credit score, landlords may overlook the number if you can prove you’ll be a reliable tenant in other ways. 

Megan Doyle

Megan Doyle is a business technology writer and researcher whose work focuses on financial services and cross-cultural diversity and inclusion.

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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