When should I bring up my credit history?
Bring it up too soon and a landlord might write you off. Bring it up too late and you'll look like you've been trying to hide something (not to mention you'll have wasted time and possibly money for a credit check). Your strategy should depend on which type of landlord you are talking to. If you are looking at a professionally managed apartment complex, our advice is to bring it up right away during the initial phone call or visit. The reason? Typically, large complexes have established policies and rarely deviate from them. They do this to manage risk, and also to protect themselves from lawsuits (treating everybody the same avoids the appearance of discrimination). You'll save yourself time, money and frustration by asking right away.
Individual landlords are a different story. They own the properties they manage and are more likely to consider your individual circumstances instead of just relying on your credit score. Although you certainly can bring up your bankruptcy on your initial call to an individual landlord, we advise that you wait until you can meet in person. This gives you the chance to make a great first impression and to make your case as to why you will make a great tenant. A compromise approach you can adopt is to allude to the fact that you've had credit problems in the past without spilling all the gory details. A conversation might go like this:
You: "I've had some credit problems in the past, but those are behind me now. Would you be willing to work with me?"
You: "Great. I'll explain more when we meet to see the house."
That's much better than saying "Hi, I just filed bankruptcy last week. Will you rent to me?"
The next section of this article deals with the initial meeting with the landlord.
How do I convince a landlord to rent to me?
Tip #1: Make a great first impression
Everything from how you are dressed to the condition of the car you drive will make an impression. Wear nice, clean clothes. Don't pull up in a 15 year beater with a broken muffler and a plastic bag over the missing window! If you've got
two cars, by all means drive the nicer one. In the landlord's eyes, someone who has a poorly maintained car is likely to neglect the house too. By the same token, if you were able to keep your brand new Escalade after your bankrutpcy, you might want to drive something else, lest you give the impression you went into bankrutpcy because you overspent. Don't smoke and throw your butts in the driveway, street or yard. Better yet, don't smoke at all. You're starting to get the idea by now!
Tip #2: Be completely honest
Your potential landlord will most likely do a credit check as well as check your previous rental history, so there's no sense in hiding anything.
Tip #3: Make your case
You've learned from your mistakes and won't repeat them, right? Now that you've come clean about your past, explain what happened without making excuses. Whether you ended up in bankruptcy due to job loss, illness, sudden expenses, divorce or other reasons, you should be prepared to explain what you learned and what you'll do to prevent it in the future. And of course, actions speak much louder than words, so bring evidence: pay stubs, bank statements, savings account statements, even your budget.
Tip #4: Be prepared to make concessions
Your landlord will be making an investment decision when deciding to rent to you. In all investments, the greater the risk, the bigger the payout (in this case your monthly rent). Be prepared to either make the investment more profitable for your landlord (higher rent) or reduce his risk. This could mean a higher deposit for example.
I got the lease! What else should I do?
Of course, be the best tenant you can be. Pay on time, keep up the place and be a good neighbor. You should also work to rebuild your financial security. Something unexpected like an illness, divorce or job loss probably led to your credit problems. Now that you're wiser, do everything you can to plan for the unexpected. Check out our blog for useful financial tips. Most of all, keep your chin up. With hard work and discipline, you'll get back on your feet again. For inspiration, check out our list of famous and successful people who filed bankruptcy.