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Plan Well, Retire Well

How does my credit affect renting?

4 white houses surrounding a red house with a blue background

Credit history plays a significant role when looking for housing. While I live in a college town with many housing options, finding a home anywhere can be difficult if you have a poor credit history. A credit check involves more than just a three-digit number. In a bustling city like mine, finding the perfect rental can be overwhelming. When applying for a home, tenants need to do some legwork to find the best home and landlord. Among the abundance of rental options, your credit rating is a factor that can either unlock doors or close them shut.

More Than Just Numbers

Having good credit such as a score of about 620 or above, good references, good debt-to-income ratio, and debt below 30% can make a significant difference in a competitive rental market. It can help you secure more desirable living spaces. On the other hand, having bad credit such as credit scores below 620, large debt-to-income ratio, not enough credit, accounts in collections, and negative references limit your options. The better your financial history, the wider your housing opportunities. This is particularly important since rental prices are competitive, and finding good tenants, as well as a good landlord, can be a difficult task. A tenant with a good credit report has a better chance of finding a good-quality home compared to those with bad credit. Therefore, the more trustworthy your financial history is, the better opportunities you have.

Good credit is important, but having a less-than-ideal score does not necessarily disqualify you from a rental property in Illinois. However, you may need to take additional steps, such as offering a double deposit or finding a co-signer. There are Illinois Fair Housing laws in place that require property managers to provide fair housing to all residents. In Illinois, these laws apply to everyone 18 years and older who is required to apply separately and be added to the lease. This gives landlords the right to have all adults fill out an application so that they can screen each potential tenant.

Building Trust

Renting a home involves a trust game between the landlord and the tenant. Credit checks help to minimize risk for both parties. Landlords can ensure compliance with fair housing laws while selecting responsible occupants, and tenants can gain access to quality rentals by demonstrating financial trustworthiness. It's important to remember that renting out a home is a leap of faith for a landlord, and selecting someone with good credit can minimize the risk of missed rent or evictions. As a property manager for the last 15 years, I have seen many individuals struggle to obtain safe, clean, and affordable housing. 

A tenant's financial history, particularly their credit score, shows landlords how well they have managed their debts and bills. Demonstrating consistency in payments, meeting due dates and a reasonable debt-to-income ratio reassures landlords that the tenant will be responsible for paying their rent on time. In addition, it is essential to maintain stable employment, avoid changing jobs often, and keep good relationships with current and past landlords, as word of mouth can go a long way. You should also avoid evictions at all costs, as this can affect your rental history for many years and be an immediate denial for most landlords. It’s vital to handle all calls and emails professionally with your current and potential future landlords and have all documents ready to provide proof of any significant changes in credit.

How Can I Build or Repair My Credit?

To learn more about credit you can visit the Building Credit portion of our Finances website. There you will find various resources that you can watch, read, or listen to. In addition to this, you can also check your credit report for free with Annual Credit Report, which allows you to check your credit report weekly. Also, remember that paying bills on time, keeping your debt-to-income ratio low, building a positive credit history with responsible credit card use, and communicating openly with your current landlord can all help you stay on top of your credit game.


Written by Gaby Villasenor, FCS intern, University of Illinois Extension, Spring 2024. Reviewed by Emily Harmon, Kathy, Sweedler, and Jamie Mahlandt, University of Illinois Extension.


emily harmon

Emily Harmon is responsible for family life programming in the counties of Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, Vermilion, and other parts of Illinois as needed. Emily's areas of interest working with older adults to provide healthy living and healthy aging programming. She is passionate about providing resources to empower individuals to make decisions for themselves to improve their overall well-being. Another area of interest is working with Money Mentor volunteers.