If you were to ask me a year ago what a credit rating was, I would have mocked you for you watching too much late night TV. Maybe I would have told you to go buy a suit and on the way, pick me up some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. After all, I was still living at home, and credit scores seemed like a way-too-adult thing to worry about. Little did I know that my lack of credit smarts would lead to the loss of my (first) dream apartment.
With twin stone lions guarding the front porch and a limestone balcony, this apartment was beyond gorgeous. Unfortunately, the unethical landlady had promised it to both my roommate and me and a married couple. Her solution? She’d see which of us had better credit by doing a credit check that she expected us to pay for! Since I’d only had a credit card for a year and didn’t even know, at the time, what a credit score was, you can imagine the results. We lost that dreamboat of an apartment, but both my roommate and I became far savvier about the importance of good credit.
If you are serious about getting an apartment, start by getting your credit report. Under a recent federal law you can do so for free once a year. Go to the official web site and see what dirt the country’s three biggest credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian have on you. Personally, I found out that they had me listed as opening a Discover card when I was 12, and that I’d signed up for multiple department store credit cards years ago. While each had a $0 balance, they had up to a $500 credit limit each, of which I was completely unaware. Anyone could have been charging up a storm and I would have had to, literally, pay the consequences. I’ve since cancelled the extraneous cards and disputed that tricky Discover Card, but I still feel squirmy about the whole process.
So do yourself, your future landlord, but, yeah, mostly your future you a favor—and get your free credit report. Your landlord will want to know that you will pay your rent on time and while my current landlord liked us enough to forgo this step, you should be forewarned, especially if you use an agency to help find your new apartment, a credit check is standard practice.