7 Tips for Getting an Apartment Without a Credit Check

Try offering references, getting a roommate, paying a larger deposit or working with an individual landlord.
Amanda Barroso
Tiffany Curtis
Erin El Issa
By Erin El Issa,  Tiffany Curtis and  Amanda Barroso 
Edited by Sheri Gordon

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A solid credit history is important for many reasons — including acquiring credit accounts or cell phone contracts. Often, you also need credit to rent an apartment. While there's not a specific credit score threshold that all property managers and landlords use, they are typically looking for renters with credit in the "good" range, which is generally 690 to 719 on the commonly used 300-850 scale.

If you have credit that falls in the “fair” (630-689) or “bad” (300-629) ranges, you might find yourself searching for a rental that doesn’t require a credit check as part of the application. Such rentals are sometimes called “no credit check apartments.” You might have better luck finding this kind of rental through an individual landlord — someone who owns one or a couple of rental properties — rather than a property management company that owns and runs a lot of apartment complexes around town.

A quick online search for “no credit check apartments near me” might be helpful — but it depends on where you live. These rentals are more likely to be found in rural or low population areas rather than big cities where lots of competition means building owners can have stiffer requirements.

Why is a credit check required to rent an apartment?

Most property managers and individual landlords use a combination of credit checks and background checks to determine a potential tenant’s ability to pay rent consistently on time. While these measures don’t tell a person’s whole financial story, they are the most commonly used tools to assess liability and protect the property owner. 

When checking your credit report, owners are likely to look for things like prior bankruptcies or evictions or a history of late payments. Large debts or a history of collections might also be red flags.

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How to get an apartment with little or no credit

If you don’t have a credit history yet — or your credit is lower than you’d like — here are several ways to work around it and (hopefully) get approved.

1. Rent from an individual landlord, but beware of scams

Most large property management companies require a credit check as part of their application process. However, some individual landlords, who own one or a couple of rental properties, might let you rent without established credit.

Generally, these individual landlords will still ask you to prove income stability. Rent apartments only within your budget, even if you can get approved for a more expensive place.

Be cautious of listings for no credit check apartments that seem too good to be true. Some signs that a rental listing is a scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission include:

  • An individual landlord asking for a security deposit or the first month’s rent before you’ve signed a lease or seen the apartment.

  • An individual landlord who says that they’re out of the country but has someone working on their behalf to set you up with the apartment. Don’t send money overseas, and be suspicious if you’re not able to meet with someone or see the apartment before committing.

  • An individual landlord owner who asks you to wire them money. A wire transfer is the same as handing over cash, and you can’t get it back.

2. Offer to move in right away

Having one or more empty apartments is expensive for property managers and landlords. They have to pay the mortgage and utilities without any reimbursement in the form of rent. Because of this, you may be able to rent a place without a credit history if you’re able to move in immediately.

3. Prove income or savings balance

If you don’t have an established credit history, you may be approved if your income is stable and will adequately cover the rent. It’s generally recommended that you keep rent expenses to less than one-third of your take-home pay, so if you make $3,000 a month, you’ll want to look at apartments with a monthly rent of less than $1,000. Keep in mind that as median rent prices skyrocket, it’s not always possible to stick to that guideline. But try your best to find a place with a monthly rent that you can afford.

If you don’t have a stable income, a high savings balance may suffice. The savings required will vary depending on the apartment complex or management company, but ideally it should cover several months of rent payments.

4. Pay a few months’ rent upfront as a security deposit

Individual landlords will be more likely to rent to you if they have the rent money in hand for a few months. By paying two to three months upfront, your landlord won’t run the risk of you not paying, at least for a while. Make sure this payment is well documented, so you can get it back at the end of your lease.

5. Provide reference letters

Prove your character by providing professional references from past employers, professors or teachers. The general assumption is those who are responsible at work and school are more likely to be responsible with their money. These character references are a good way to show you’re a hardworking, responsible person who won’t be late with the rent.

6. Offer to start out month-to-month

By signing a three-month lease, or going month-to-month, the landlord can opt to not renew you for a longer term if you aren’t paying. Of course, you know you’ll always pay the rent on time, but you have to prove that to your landlord with a good track record of on-time rent payments.

7. Get a co-signer or a roommate with strong credit

Ask a close friend or family member with good credit to co-sign for you. Understand that if this person agrees, they will be liable for your rent payment if you fail to make it in a timely manner. To keep your personal relationships intact, always make your payment in full and on time.

It’s also not a bad idea to consider finding a roommate. If your potential roommate has good credit, it could help increase your odds of getting an apartment. And sharing rent costs will help your budget.

Get more financial clarity with NerdWallet
Monitor your credit, track your spending and see all of your finances together in a single place.

Ways to build your credit

If you aren’t looking to move right away or if you’re having trouble getting an apartment, it doesn’t hurt to work on building your credit.

  • Apply for a secured credit card. These types of cards require users to put down a cash deposit when the account is opened. The deposit is equal to the card's credit limit — if you put down $250, then that will be the credit limit, too. The best secured cards allow you to upgrade to an unsecured card that doesn't require a deposit.

  • Consider becoming an authorized user. You won't be responsible for making payments and will benefit from the increased available credit, which will lower your utilization and likely build your score as a result. Be sure to ask someone who uses credit responsibly.

  • Take out a credit-builder loan. The lender, typically a credit union or small bank, holds the full amount while you make payments over time. Once you've paid the loan in full, you get the lump sum. This type of loan helps you build a history of on-time payments while accumulating funds that can be used for an emergency or other savings goal.

  • Get credit for rent and utility payments. Rent-reporting services can help get your credit reports to reflect your rent payments. Using Experian Boost allows your rent, streaming and utility payments to be counted toward your credit score from that credit bureau. The key is making sure all your payments are on time to get credit and build your score.

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