If you’re about to start your apartment search, don’t let your credit card debt stop you from renting the place you want. You will need to be financially attractive to the leasing agent, and uncontrollable credit card debt may suggest that you won’t be able to pay the rent.
Credit card debt can make your apartment search difficult, but there are steps you can take to assure the potential landlord that you are a responsible tenant. Here’s how you can rent an apartment, even if you have significant credit card debt.
How credit card debt affects rentals
Homeowners use credit reports, credit scores, or a combination of both when make rental decisions. Credit card debt can lower your score if you use more than 30% of your available credit, and homeowners can investigate your credit report to find out how you are using credit. Whenever the reports are analyzed, the types of liabilities you have listed may be considered – and some are seen as riskier than others.
“Credit cards can be a problem because debt can be recurring,” says Alexandra Alvarado, director of education for the American Apartment Owners Association. “One month you can’t have any debt; the next month you can have a lot. It shows up on the report. The best case is that the person has always paid off the credit accounts in full.”
The amount of your financial obligations is a factor because it reduces the amount of money you have left of your income to cover the rent. Many homeowners, according to Alvarado, apply the 3-to-1 ratio when assessing a person’s financial situation. This means that your income must be at least three times the rent.
How Much is the Credit Card Debt Too High?
If all you have on your credit report is a little credit card debt amount, don’t worry, says Andrea Wells, a licensed real estate sales and leasing professional based in Brooklyn, New York. “Debt is American style,” she said. “Almost everyone has it. It doesn’t have to be nonexistent, but make sure the balances are low.”
The key is to know how much of your credit you are using over your credit limit, known as the credit utilization ratio. As a general rule, you should limit your balances to 30% of your available credit, but about 7 percent is ideal.
“Your credit utilization rate has a big effect on your score. Therefore, the more credit debt you use as a percentage of your total credit limit on all your cards, the lower your score will be when applying, ”says Andrew Schrage, co-founder and CEO of personal finance site Money Crashers .
Before you search, reduce your debt
High credit card debt and the payments that go with it can kick you out of the tenant consideration pool. In this case, be assertive in reduce debt before looking for an apartment.
If you can’t pay off your balances first, consider getting a loan to consolidate debt. When you transfer credit card debt to a personal loan, it is no longer revolving debt and is not factored into your credit utilization rate calculation. A loan can also reduce payments. “If you can reduce the payments with a consolidation loan, you may be able to pay the rent,” says Alvarado.
A credit card with balance transfer is another option to help you consolidate your payments and save on interest. These credit cards typically offer zero percent interest on balance transfers for 12 to 18 months. You can move your balances to the balance transfer credit card, freeing up available credit on existing accounts. However, you will need to make sure that the balances you transfer to your new card do not exceed 30% of the credit limit, otherwise your credit utilization rate will continue to lower your credit score.
But managing credit card debt well enough to qualify for an apartment may not require a loan or a new credit card. Think carefully about your budget, where you can cut expenses or increase your income, and how you can make additional payments to reduce your debt.
However, if you are already renting and your cash flow is tight, your rent payments should prevail. “Do it on your credit card bills,” Wells says. “The last thing you want when looking for an apartment is proof that you haven’t paid your rent or that your landlord has initiated eviction proceedings against you. Credit card problems are always more forgivable than eviction notice. “
How to sweeten the deal
If you have limited time and resources, you can still overcome your credit card debt and present yourself as a worthy tenant. Wells’ strategy:
- Look for additional sources of income. Because the landlord will want to see that you can handle the rent, your debt will be less if your income is high enough to handle both what you owe and your monthly rent obligation.
- Ask for a reference from your employer. If your boss or manager can guarantee that you are a valued employee and that your job is secure, your level of risk will decrease.
- Get a guarantor. If someone with good credit and sufficient income is willing to co-sign the lease, ask that person to act as a guarantor. This is a safety net for landlords as a guarantor will be legally obligated to pay the rent if you don’t. If you don’t know anyone who wants to be a guarantor, rental guarantee programs, which offer some form of insurance, are available.
- Increase security. Landlords usually require a security deposit equivalent to one month’s rent when moving in, but if you can offer more, you might seem less risky financially.
- Obtain letters from previous owners. If you’ve been a responsible tenant in other buildings, ask those landlords for letters of recommendation.
- Look for a cheaper apartment. The reality may be that you just can’t afford the place you want with your current debt load. Explore cheaper apartments with lower credit requirements.
- Make it personal. If the landlord is reluctant to offer you a lease, write a one-page letter touting your other assets, Wells says. “Include details about who you are, what you do for a living, where you’re from. Make it bloom. For mom and pop owners, it can make a big difference,” she says.