Congrats! You’re ready to move out on your own for the very first time. But if you have zero credit history, getting that first apartment might be a challenge. It’s a catch-22: You have no credit, so you want to build credit. Renting an apartment is a great way to do that — but most property management companies run a credit check and want to see a credit history. So what’s a first-time renter supposed to do? Here’s a step-by-step guide to renting an apartment for first-time renters with no credit:
Step One: Determine what you can afford (no more than 30 percent of your income) and start searching for an apartment within that price range (don’t look at anything above this amount). If possible, try finding a smaller place with a landlord — an individual may be more willing to work with you than a rental company. Either way, you’ll have to convince the landlord or the property management company that you’re a good risk. That leads us to step two.
Step Two: Take steps to sweeten the deal. Bring references with you — including one from your boss, if possible. Bring along a pay stub or your W-2 to show the landlord or leasing agent. If you can, offer to pay a larger security deposit.
Step Three: Don’t think of your lack of credit history as a negative — it’s not! You have no debt! That’s a good thing — it means you don’t have any other financial obligations, so you won’t have trouble making your rent payments.
Step Four: Consider a cosigner — or find a roommate with credit. A parent or relative may be willing to vouch for you, so don’t be afraid to ask. (Just make sure you can afford the place, since if you default, they will be held responsible.) A roommate with credit may help offset your lack of credit.
Another approach would be to build some credit. This takes time — you might have to put off renting your first apartment for six months to a year. If this is possible, here’s how to build credit quickly:
Get a secured credit card or a student credit card. A secured credit card is one where you make a deposit to the bank giving you the card. So if you give the bank $500, they will extend a credit line of $500 (typically) to you. As long as you make your regular monthly payments, the bank won’t touch your deposit. Once you’ve proven that you’re a good risk, the bank will move your card to an unsecured card and give you back the original deposit. A student credit card is another option — these are meant for college students who don’t have credit, but you will have to prove your income (and perhaps have a parent co-sign).
If you get a credit card, don’t charge more than you can afford to pay off in the next billing cycle. For example, if you use your card for a $25 purchase, pay the full amount when you get the bill. You’ll save the interest, keep a zero balance, and build your credit. (You don’t have to have a balance or pay interest to build credit — just use your card.)
Start paying on a student loan — or get one. If you are a college student, taking out a student loan is a simple way to build credit — there’s no co-signer, they are fast and easy to get, and paying on time will quickly build your credit score.
Buy a car! If you are driving your dad’s old hand-me-down with the ripped seats and rust on the floor, perhaps now would be a good time to trade it in for something a little newer. You may need a co-signer and/or a substantial down-payment, but a car loan will quickly build your credit (as long as you make those monthly payments on time).
Mix it up — but be careful. Having different types of credit will prove that you can manage a variety of debt, so try combining a credit card with, say, a car loan. Just make sure you keep the payments as low as possible, don’t max out your credit card (keep the balance less than 20 percent of your credit limit), and be sure you make the payments on time (you can schedule the payments in advance or even set up auto-payments if you are the forgetful type).
Don’t go crazy — or obtain too much debt. If you make too many credit inquiries, those inquiries can actually damage your credit score. Also, one credit card is enough — you don’t need multiple cards, and carrying too much debt will have a negative impact on your credit. Make a plan, keep it simple and affordable, and stick with it.
Monitor your credit score. Some credit cards will provide your score, or you can get a free report at annualcreditreport.com. There are some websites/apps that will also help you monitor your score, but beware — don’t pay for a credit report. Be suspicious of any site that wants a credit card number. Also, know who you’re dealing with. There are three credit companies that provide credit scores: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.