Why Do I Need a Co-Signer on My Apartment Lease?

published Apr 30, 2020
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Every time I apply to lease a new apartment, it feels like I’m a competitor on “American Ninja Warrior”. Just when I’ve finished my rope climb of finding a suitable place, I cross the balance beam of scrounging together funds for the security deposit only to meet a new obstacle—a co-signer. Bringing another party into such a personal process can be daunting, and there’s often no way around it. And given the new financial realities facing Americans, we may be seeing more co-signer requirements in future leases. Below, find everything you need to know about co-signers so that you can confidently make it past the finish line and into your new home. 

What does it mean to have a co-signer on your lease?

A co-signer is a person who legally accepts the responsibility of paying your rent if, for some reason, you’re unable to make the payment. Landlords require co-signers on your lease if they see any issues with your rental application. They physically will sign your lease agreement as a co-signer. If you’re in a tight spot, this is the teammate you (and your landlord) can count on to tag in and help financially.

Why would I qualify for a co-signer?

Usually the issues boil down to money. If you’re just starting out and don’t have much credit (like recent college grads), or if you have a low credit score, the landlord will require the security of a co-signer. The landlord may consider a history of eviction or criminal behavior as red flags that could warrant a co-signer as well. Self-employed folks, gig economy workers, and freelancers might also run into these requirements, since it can be hard to get a clear picture of those workers’ actual income.

Does my co-signer need to have good credit?

Yes! That’s the whole point. And the co-signer’s credit can potentially be impacted by a renter’s failure to pay. If you find yourself unable to pay rent, and the ball is then in the co-signer’s court, any late rent payment from the co-signer can bring down their credit score. Remember, you’re relying on your co-signer to grab that baton and run like heck to the finish line. Make sure you choose someone with solid credit.

Does my co-signer have rights to my apartment?

Nope. While co-signers take on the financial responsibility if the renter fails to pay, this doesn’t buy them access to the property or rights as a tenant. They don’t live with you, and they can’t access your home without your consent. 

You might ask yourself, “Wait, then what’s in it for the co-signer?” Honestly, not much. Aside from a potential benefit to their credit history, co-signers are just trying to help out their loved ones. So, be sure to choose your co-signer wisely.

Who should I ask to co-sign for me?

Your co-signer shouldn’t just be someone with a stellar financial record—they also need your trust, as they’ll be responsible for your access to shelter, and privy to a general idea of your finances. Typically, a parent or other family member serves as the co-signer. Close friends work, too. Just make sure they’re someone you trust, someone whose finances are in order, and someone who is dependable. 

What if I can’t find anyone to co-sign for me?

If no one is able to co-sign your lease, or if you’d prefer to keep your family and friends out of your business, co-sign services are available. For a fee—and we’re talking hundreds of nonrefundable dollars—you can be matched with a co-signer. Of course, this process requires approval, too, and you have to pay back the service if you end up using the co-signer. But it’s a resourceful option for those without co-signers available.