My girlfriend and I finally found a place we really like. We filled out the applications and everything was great… that is, until the landlord said he had to do a credit check. My girlfriend doesn’t really have any credit history. She’s never had a credit card or a car payment. I can’t say the same for myself, though. I’ve made a few mistakes and last I checked, my score was in the low 600s. We’ve both have jobs so we’ll have no problem paying the rent or anything… isn’t there some way around this? If we don’t get this place because of my lousy credit, my relationship may go the way of my credit score.
Full Question and Answer
Many landlords want to do a credit check before they rent an apartment. It’s just common sense—they want to get an idea of the risk they’re taking on, and not just where your ability to pay rent is concerned. A credit report might tell them if you’re involved in any other lawsuits, which can help them figure out how we’ll you’re going to take care of their property or if you’re going to be trouble. This is a good thing for you, as well. Do you really want a guy moving in next door who’s been convicted of running a meth lab or got sued for bashing his last neighbor’s car with a baseball bat? Thought not.
But if your credit’s not that great, you’re understandably nervous—and since your girlfriend doesn’t have any credit at all, she can’t really help you. What you really need is a two-fold plan: get this apartment you want now, and take steps to repair your credit so this isn’t an issue (or at least not as big an issue) next time around. With a little luck, these things will work together to make everybody involved happy.
There are a few steps you might take to ease any worries the landlord might have based on the information in your credit report. If you’ve had your job for awhile and you’re pretty well liked, see if you can get a reference from your boss or some of your coworkers. People who can say you’re responsible and hard-working might offset a few dings to your credit report. If you’re in a position to do so, you might get a parent or someone else to cosign the lease with you. Knowing you’re backed up by someone more reliable than your credit report says you are can go a long way. If you can’t get a cosigner, maybe offer to pay a larger deposit to help offset the risk. The landlord might be willing to overlook your shoddy credit past if you toss him another couple months’ rent on top of the standard damage deposit. Whatever you do, do not lie to the landlord about your credit score. It can come back to bite you in the butt down the line.
Your credit past is your past—not your future, which is in your hands. If you haven’t already, get a copy of your credit report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com and go through it with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. There might be some errors, and if so, you can take steps to get rid of those (and of course, tell the landlord there are errors that you’re disputing). Make sure you pay your bills on time, and see about maybe getting another credit card or raising your limit on any you have—your credit score gets better if you’re using less credit than you have available to use. You might also consider signing up with an online service that can help you manage your bills and track your credit health (we really like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame, which are both free).
Once you’ve set a plan in motion to improve your score, let that landlord know you’re working on it. Everybody makes mistakes, but if you show you’re taking responsibility and making an effort to clean up your mess, you’re also showing that landlord that you’re exactly the sort of tenant he wants.