Minimum Credit Score to Rent an Apartment: What You Need

When you apply to rent an apartment, you can expect nearly all landlords to run a credit check. As a general rule, you’ll want a credit score of 620 or higher to secure a rental. But there’s no hard and fast number: it varies by landlord, and it’s only one factor in your rental application.

In competitive a competitive rental market, such as New York City, you’ll likely need a higher credit score than in a less expensive market, such as Indianapolis. Likewise, the landlord of a high-priced luxury rental will likely look for a higher score than one representing a lower-rent unit. 

Most landlords use FICO credit scores to determine if an applicant qualifies for an apartment. The typical categories for those scores are:

  • Exceptional: 800 to 850
  • Very Good: 740 to 799
  • Good: 670 to 739
  • Fair: 580 to 669
  • Poor: 300 to 579

Generally, a higher credit score indicates a higher probability that you’re financially solvent and will be able to pay the rent on time. But that doesn’t mean renters with lower credit scores need not apply.  Landlords also assess your overall credit history, references, employment status, and lifestyle in their decision-making process. 

How Landlords Analyze Your Credit Report

In most cases, landlords are going to look at both your report and credit score. In many ways, your credit score is a summary. It lets landlords see at a glance your overall creditworthiness and may be used to determine if the rest of your application is worth reviewing.

However, if your credit score doesn’t automatically disqualify you from renting the apartment, they will likely review the rest of the credit report. Generally, landlords will look for potential red flags, such as:

  • Late payments
  • Accounts in collections
  • Recent hard inquires
  • Bankruptcy history
  • High debt payment amounts (in comparison to stated income)

Whether any of those details make you ineligible for an apartment may vary from one landlord to the next. Additionally, there may be state laws preventing landlords from considering certain information that appears on your credit report, though this can differ depending on your location.

How to Determine If Your Credit Is Strong Enough

Before you try to rent an apartment, take a look at your credit report and score (it’s free). Look out for any potential issues, such as late payments or charged-off accounts that could be red flags for landlords. 

Having a clear picture of your credit standing will help you be strategic about your apartment rental applications. If your score is on the weaker end, or you have derogatory marks on your credit report, you should be prepared to provide financial documents to demonstrate your solvency. 

How to Secure a Rental With “Fair” or “Bad” Credit

While a minimum of 620 or 650 may make it seem like individuals with credit scores on the lower end of fair or in the poor range can’t get an apartment, that isn’t the case. Not all landlords have a minimum credit score to rent an apartment from them, and many are willing to look at the big picture before making a decision. Others may have specific options available – like the option to add a cosigner – to help you qualify.

When you’re trying to rent an apartment with bad credit, diligence matters. And setting your sights on the right properties may increase your odds of getting approved.

While you might not be able to secure your dream place, you can likely find an apartment that will do for now. Then, you can boost your credit score by making smart financial choices, allowing you to work your way up to your ideal apartment.

There are also several ways you can make your rental application more appealing to make up for a low credit score. Here are a few approaches you can take:

Offer to pay an extra month upfront.

Not only does this show the landlord that you’re serious about the rental, but it indicates you have the funds on hand and the financial planning capabilities to save money. This may not work with every landlord, but it’s worth a try.

Bring on a cosigner

If your credit score isn’t quite high enough to secure a rental in your market, bringing a cosigner onto the lease might be enough to push your application over the finish line, especially in a competitive market. This is a big ask since your cosigner will be on the hook for the rent if you fail to pay, so make sure you can keep up with the payments. 

Look for cheaper apartments

Some landlords may ask you to prove that you earn 3 or 4 times the monthly rent. Even if your other monthly expenses are low, landlords are often wary of a high rent-to-income ratio. If you’ve had rejected applications already, try your luck with rentals in a lower price range. Once you’re approved, act as a model tenant, score an excellent reference, and use that to leverage your way into a nicer place down the road. 

Bring on a roommate

Sharing your space might not seem ideal, but splitting expenses with a roommate is a great way to get into a rental you might not qualify for on your own. Ask around your workplace or within your friend group. There’s likely someone else who, like you, is dreaming of a nicer apartment but can’t quite make it work on their own. Shared living arrangements don’t have to be permanent, and they can save you a lot of money. Plus, if your chosen roommate has good credit, it will reflect positively on the entire application.

Provide stellar references

Ultimately landlords are looking for tenants they can count on to pay the rent and leave the apartment in good condition. If your credit score is on the lower end, providing excellent references could be enough to win you the rental. Ideally, your references are from previous landlords, but if not, character references from employers or co-workers might be sufficient. The goal is to illustrate that you’re an upstanding citizen who will respect the property and follow the rules. 

Emphasize the most favorable aspects of your application

If your credit score isn’t quite where you’d like it to be, try to draw attention to the more favorable aspects of your application. Emphasize your excellent references or the fact that you’ve been at your job for a very long time. You might also highlight aspects of your lifestyle that make you an appealing tenant. For instance, if you work long hours and are rarely home, there’s a low probability that the landlord will receive a noise complaint about you. Or, if the unit is pet-friendly but you don’t have one, you’re automatically less likely to cause property damage. Get creative about what makes you a good tenant and work to highlight those qualities. 

The Bottom Line

While you likely need a credit score of 620 or higher to rent an apartment, many other factors go into your landlord’s decision-making process. Don’t let a low credit score hold you back from applying for rentals. In the same way, you shouldn’t assume your high credit score will be enough to land your ideal rental. Think about your application as a whole and position yourself as an appealing tenant. Remember, you can build your credit score and a collection of positive references over time.