Now that you have found all of those apartments that look like places you want to visit, the next step is to get a few things in order before you start setting up apartment visits. Finding a great apartment is only half the job - applying and getting approved by the landlord is the other. So when you are ready to grab that apartment, come prepared!
Landlords generally approve applicants based on the strength and/or balance of your income, credit, assets, and guarantor.
In major cities, most landlords will require that you earn annually at least 40 to 50 times the amount of the monthly rent. If the rent is $1500 per month, you may need to show approx. $60,000 in annual income. In the other areas, most landlords will require less income, approximately 30 to 35 times the amount of monthly rent. Roommate/Shares and Sublets may require less annual income as well.
Having good credit is important, and it is a major part of the approval process. Landlords use your credit report and rating to make an assessment concerning your bill paying habits and responsibility to debt.
A future landlord may likely run a credit check on you before deciding whether to rent to you. You may or may not have a credit history yet. It depends on whether you have had credit established in your name that required payment (such as a credit card or car loan).
The credit report is used to:
* Verify your Social Security number
* Verify your driver’s license number
* Verify your current and previous addresses
* Verify your current and previous employers
* List any credit accounts you have open and what your pay patterns are (for example, do you pay your bills on time?)
* List any collection, lien, or legal problems you may have
* List any bankruptcies
Get a copy of your credit report and fix any errors so you won't be surprised if there is a problem. Be sure to provide accurate information to the landlord. If you had any credit problems in the past, you might want to tell the landlord what they were—and how you responded to the problems—before the landlord finds out on the credit report. Everybody gets in a bind once in a while. Being upfront about your difficulties and showing how you resolved them will show the landlord that you are reliable and trustworthy even in difficult situations.
A credit rating is a FICO score calculated by the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). It is based on your credit history (credit cards, student and auto loans, paying bills on time, etc.) Scores range from 300 to 850 and if yours is under 620 it could spell trouble. (The average FICO score in the U.S. is currently 678.) Your credit rating may decide where you're able to rent or how many months of security deposit your landlord will require.
If you are maxed out on your credit cards and your FICO score is below 620, your options are limited. You won't be able to rent in most large apartment buildings, unless someone is willing to co-sign your lease and meets the co-signer income requirements - or someone is willing and able to prepay several months of rent on your behalf. In this case you are better off in looking in small buildings or private homes, since they rarely check the credit rating. Just be sure that you can actually afford your rent so you won't knock your credit rating down even lower and hurt yourself in your next move.
How do you find out your personal credit score? Start by visiting https://www.annualcreditreport.com. Under a new law, you are entitled to get a free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus once a year. The FICO score is not part of the report, but can be ordered for a small fee (currently $6.95) at the same time. You can also get your score by going to www.myfico.com, where it will cost you $14.95.
Additional assets will help your application. You may not have enough income to meet the customary requirements, and either have weak or no credit history at all. If you have 6 to 12 months of rent available in a bank account (loans, parents, grants), landlords may accept multiple months of rent or security deposit paid in advance as an alternative way of approving you (*Make sure this arrangement is in writing*). If your credit is very poor, some landlords may still refuse to rent to you.
If you do not meet the income, or credit requirements, a guarantor might be the solution.
A guarantor (co-signor) is someone who is willing to take the financial liability of your lease if you are unable or unwilling to fulfill it. The guarantor is generally not required to pay anything in order to get you approved; however by agreeing to guarantee you, they are responsible for all terms of your lease.
If you are sharing an apartment, it is important to understand the guarantor is ultimately responsible for the entire lease. Landlords may accept multiple guarantors, however, they are not legally obligated to do so.
If a landlord is inclined to refuse an application based on poor credit, the decision to allow a guarantor for approval may depend on how bad the credit is and how strict their policies are. Sometimes a combination of guarantor and extra security are needed.
A guarantor does not have to be a relative. Most landlords prefer the guarantor to live in the local area. It is best to prepare your potential guarantor by advising them of what documents will be requested of them. Guarantors usually do not have to be present at lease signing. Timing is critical in apartment hunting, and your guarantor’s cooperation will critical.
Guarantors may be requested to provide the following information:
- Guarantor application.
- Guarantor Agreement.
- Social Security Number - Credit Report (Landlords generally run credit).
- Proof of income showing double the income requirements of an applicant. Annual income of 70-80 times the monthly rent.
- Tax returns – first page and signature.
- Letter of Employment - on company letterhead (position, salary, and start date).
- CPA letter - stating qualifying income.
Action: Ask the landlord what they are looking for in terms of income and credit score. Review all of your materials to make sure you qualify.
Up Next: Come Prepared - What You Need to Bring With You for Apartment Hunting Visits
This is an excerpt from Deciding Where to Live After College Guide which is included in our Real World 101 Care Packages. Visit our Care Package page to find out how to get one for yourself or for a lucky college grad!