Tenant screening helps landlords determine whether a particular rental applicant is likely to pay rent on time and take good care of the property. Credit history is an important predictor, especially with regard to timely payments. Credit bureaus assign each individual a credit score that corresponds with her credit history. Although Fair Isaac's FICO set the scoring standard, each bureau has its own version of it. Which FICO an apartment complex uses depends on the complex's preference.
Beyond Credit Scores
Your credit score is only part of your credit history. Landlords also look at credit reports to determine how responsibly tenants have handled money in the past. In addition to showing repayment histories for credit accounts, the report may list evictions from prior rental properties, arrests and convictions and judgments resulting from lawsuits.
Additional Screening Methods
Your rental application is likely to ask for contact information for current and past landlords, your employer and local references. The landlord will contact your previous landlords to ask about your rent payment history and how well you cared for their property. He'll also contact your employer to verify the job and salary information you provided. The personal references serve two purposes. First, these individuals vouch for you as a responsible person. References also show the landlord you have a local support system that may be able to help if you find yourself in a financial bind. Local references are especially important for first-time tenants and those who've not yet established credit histories.
Increase Your Chances
You can boost your chance of getting approved, especially if you have some money saved. Although most landlords ask for first and last months' rent anyway, paying an additional few months' worth shows the landlord you're serious about honoring your lease. A cosigner serves the same purpose. A parent or other creditworthy individual can sign the lease with you and accept responsibility for paying the rent if you're unable to pay it yourself.
The Landlord's Decision
A low credit score won't necessarily cause a landlord to reject your rental application. Some landlords overlook bad credit if problems occurred in the past and the more recent history shows that you've overcome your financial troubles. Even more important than credit, in some landlords' eyes, is income. The rent should be no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income.
Daria Kelly Uhlig began writing professionally for websites in 2008. She is a licensed real-estate agent who specializes in resort real estate rentals in Ocean City, Md. Her real estate, business and finance articles have appeared on a number of sites, including Motley Fool, The Nest and more. Uhlig holds an associate degree in communications from Centenary College.