Apartment hunting isn’t everyone’s idea of an adventure. There are so many things to consider, from the big stuff, like how much rent costs, to the little details, like whether the kitchen has a dishwasher, and these concerns are often made much worse by time constraints. (OK, the dishwasher may be a big deal to some people, but that’s not the point here.)
Despite its many annoyances, I love looking for a new place to live. I actually just finished an apartment hunt, after a week of dozens of phone calls and emails, two exhausting days of apartment visits, a day waiting for approval and another day to finalize the lease. It was wonderful — I’m really excited about our new place — but it also reminded me about something I hadn’t thought about since I moved last: Landlords want tenants with good credit.
Browse With Confidence
My husband and I check our credit regularly, so I knew where we stood going into the apartment search. Given our habit of making loan and credit card payments on time and only using credit when we need it, I knew we were in good shape, not to mention our history of being good tenants.
When brokers or landlords asked if I had any idea about my credit standing, it was really nice to be able to respond confidently (and positively). Even if my circumstances were different and I had some blemishes on my credit report, like a high balance on a credit card or a collection account, it would have been better to be able to explain myself, rather than sheepishly respond, “I have no idea.”
There was more to it than my personal comfort level: My rental application specifically asked about negative items on my credit report. and if I hadn’t checked in advance, I may not have been able to answer accurately. If my application didn’t match my credit report when the apartment management company checked it, my application could have been in jeopardy.
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Increase Your Options
Some landlords don’t have high credit standards for their tenants.
They don’t all even run credit checks on applicants, but plenty do, and all landlords care about whether they’ll get paid. Having poor credit may limit your housing options, which could present huge challenges for your budget, especially in a crowded rental market.
Everyone has different priorities when choosing where to live, and you’ll likely have to make sacrifices, but you don’t want to limit yourself because you haven’t worked on your credit standing.
Credit also impacts more than just your address — poor credit can cost you high premiums on insurance or deposits on utilities, making an already expensive life change that much more costly.
Preparedness Wins Rental Wars
As soon as you know you’ll be looking for a new place to live, you should check your credit reports and scores (ideally, this is already a habit). The more time you have to improve your score or correct errors, the less stressful your apartment hunt will be.
You also don’t want to find your perfect apartment, apply and get denied, just because you had no idea about your credit standing. Not only will you waste money on application fees, you will waste time. Say you’re in one of the country’s big cities: Apartments are often rented soon after they become available, so you don’t have time to make sure your credit is in order once you find the right one.
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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com. Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record. More by Christine DiGangi
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