Renters: Raise Your Credit Score Now

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credit scoreIt's probably safe to say that it isn't having a new apartment that's hard, it's getting it. First, there's the legwork, then there's the scraping together a security deposit and first and last months' rent. But for some people, it's that pesky credit score that stands between them and the garden apartment with tons of light and the in-house washer and dryer.

So how can you start fixing your credit score before you find yourself crying as someone else closes on the affordable two-bedroom of your dreams?
1. What is a credit score?

A credit score is a number between 300–850 based on -- primarily -- a person's credit history. The higher the number, the more reliable the renter. The credit score can be assessed by a landlord to reveal the likelihood that a potential renter will follow through on his or her monthly rental agreement.

2. Where does a credit score come from?

A credit score -- also known as a FICO score (from the Fair Issac Corporation) -- is derived by looking at five major categories (listed in order of the most to least heavily weighted): The renter's payment history; what the renter still owes; the length of the credit history of the renter; how much new credit the renter has; and the type of credit the renter has used.

3. How does ones credit score go down?

When a renter does not make his or her credit or rental payments on time or they have racked up so much debt that they become unable to pay a re gular minimum payment, their credit score might be primed to plummet. Further, if a person is a new credit holder or if they are applying for multiple credit sources, they can expect their number to appear less than stellar to a landlord. But more than any of those, filing for bankruptcy can knock a renter's score down up to 250 points and will stay on a credit report for 10 years.

4. What number does a landlord expect your credit score to be?

When a bank loans money, according to this recent Investopedia.com article, lenders consider anything above 770 a top-tier score and anything below 620 subprime. Landlords renting homes are -- in some cases -- willing to overlook a mediocre credit score if the would-be tenant is able to pay a larger down payment or get a co-signer.

5. So what can you do to raise your credit score?

Don't Use Credit: It might sound obvious, but the best way to rebuild bad credit is to stop accruing debt. Cut up your credit cards and go back to paying with checks and cash. It might sound old fashioned, but it will help you in the future.

Make a Calendar: It's easy in the throws of the day-to-day to forget a monthly bill or two – especially if there are five or six or more bills to pay off each month. So put it on your calendar or have reminders sent to your inbox. Even better, set up an automatic bill pay so you can't forget.

Have Fewer Credit Cards: Another no-brainer – why overtax your pocket book with all that plastic? The more open credit cards you have, the lower your credit score will be.

Stay in Touch With Your Creditors: Make sure to devote some time each month to going over your monthly statements. Catch mistakes early and report them immediately. The more mistakes you stop in their tracks, the higher your score will be – and it will keep your interest from skyrocketing.

Pay More: Don't just pay what you have to, pay more. If you overpay the interest or your minimum balance on your credit cards or student loans each month, you will be improving your overall credit. So look and see what you owe, then add fifty.

Your credit score isn't the only thing in the way of a great rental, but it's an important one. And the good news is, it's never too late to make it the number you know you should have.

Want to know how to deal with other rental issues? Here are some AOL Real Estate guides that can help:
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