A good credit score takes time. In fact, it can take years to build by making payments consistently on car loans, credit cards and other debt. A lower score is fairly quick and easy to achieve – one or two missed payments and it can plunge practically overnight, yet it seems to take forever for it to rise even when you’re doing everything right.
FICO Scores range anywhere from 300 to 850. According to the credit reporting agency Experian, a bad credit score is one that’s below 670, although it’s considered fair if it’s between 580 and 669, and poor if it falls below 580. If you’ve been asking yourself, “Should I rent or buy a house?” and your score is under 580, the answer is probably to rent. Buying is going to be even more difficult or even impossible with a score that low. Of course, renting may not be all that easy either with so many apartment complexes and landlords requiring higher scores.
So what do you do when you need to rent a place yet your score is low and you don’t have the time to work on improving it?
Look for Homes and Apartments That Don’t Require a Credit Check
While more and more rental applicants are required to undergo a credit check these days, it is sometimes possible to find listings that don’t. Rentals on Craigslist often say whether or not one is required, but you’ll want to be sure to avoid scams. Fake listings may use photos of homes that aren’t actually for rent, in hopes of getting you to pay a deposit on a place that doesn’t exist. You’ll also need to make sure the lease is legal and that it makes sense for everyone involved
Be Willing to Pay More Upfront
If your credit score isn’t too far below 580, you might not be denied but required to pay more up front, such as a higher security deposit or paying several months of rent upfront. That will help ease the landlord’s concerns, especially if you meet all the other requirements, such as a stable job and an income that ensures you’ll be able to pay the rent on time.
Do All You Can to Impress the Landlord
The more prepared you are to show the landlord that you’re serious about renting and will be a star tenant, the better, even when you don’t have the credit to back it up. Be ready to explain why you don’t have a stellar score – if there’s a good reason, such as unexpected medical expenses or a divorce, it can help. You might also bring letters of recommendation from a previous landlord showing that you were dependable along with financial documents that prove your income, especially if you earn a good salary.
Get a Cosigner
In some cases, the only option for those with poor credit is having a cosigner, especially if you’re dealing with a large, corporate-owned apartment complex. If you don’t have enough cash to pay multiple months of rent upfront or meet other requirements, this might be an option with individual homeowners you’d like to rent from as well. When you have a cosigner, that person must sign a legal document that states if you miss a payment, they’ll be liable to make them in your place. That means they’ll have to have significant trust in you that you’ll pay your rent as their credit would be negatively impacted if you don’t.