A co-signer is someone who agrees to be equally responsible for making payments on a debt agreement, or in the case of an apartment, monthly rent payments. Co-signers are financially able to step in and help a primary applicant who doesn't have strong financials to get approved on their own.
Depending on where you live and what stage of life you are in, getting an apartment can be tough. If your landlord has an income requirement that you can’t meet, or your credit history is not long or strong enough, a co-signer may be a way to get your foot in the door.
Why Get a Co-signer?
You may need a co-signer if you've applied for an apartment but can't qualify on your own. Reasons why you may not qualify to rent an apartment on your own include:
- If you have a limited rental history,
- Low income,
- Or serious delinquencies on your credit report
Most landlords require that a tenant’s yearly rent be no more than 30% of their gross income, for example. In this case, if you did not meet the rental requirement, it would be beneficial to find a co-signer. That person could be a relative, a close friend, or even the roommate you plan to live with.
While having a co-signer helps you get the keys to your apartment, there's potential for things to not work out. Not being able to pay your rent, for instance, could impact your relationship with the co-signer, as they take on full legal responsibility when agreeing to take on the role. Or, if you've co-signed with a roommate and they move out, you may find yourself responsible for the full monthly rent. Below, learn everything you need to consider before asking someone to co-sign on an apartment with you.
What Are the Co-signer’s Responsibilities?
Apartment co-signers are equally responsible for making monthly rent payments. That means that if you can't afford this month's rent, both you and the co-signer are still on the hook for the full rent payment. Co-signers are also often responsible for other debts incurred by the tenant, such as late penalties or damages to the unit at hand. And, you could face eviction if any payments agreed upon in the lease cannot be paid.
In some cases, the co-signer is also responsible for charges incurred by other tenants. If you have two other roommates and your mother is listed as the co-signer, for example, she may be “jointly and severally” liable for any of their unpaid payments too, depending on the state.
Co-signer or Guarantor?
There are generally two ways someone can help you qualify for an apartment lease: by being a co-signer or by being a guarantor. A co-signer is jointly responsible for making monthly rent payments and may be named on the lease as a tenant. A guarantor, on the other hand, is only responsible for paying rent when the primary borrower doesn't make payments. The guarantor won't be named on the lease, live in the property, or have any rights to the property. Essentially, a guarantor is a landlord’s backup plan for receiving payments.
|Named on the lease||x|
|Can occupy the apartment||x|
|Responsible for regular monthly payments||x|
|Responsible only for past due rent payments||x|
Some landlords refer to a guarantor as a co-signer, or use the two phrases interchangeably. If the signer is only responsible in case of a default, they're considered a guarantor. In any case, be sure to read the paperwork carefully to fully understand all responsibilities of parties involved.
Who Should Be My Co-signer?
You may have already thought of a few people who may be willing to be a co-signer with you. A co-signer could be a parent or another relative, a friend, or a significant other. Below, find some things to consider as you narrow down your options.
- Will the co-signer be a roommate, or do you only need help getting approved?
- If the co-signer will also be a roommate, do you trust them to help with bills and rent?
- Is this someone you are comfortable with?
- Would this person be willing to make payments for you if you default?
- Would problems with the lease affect your relationship?
- Is this someone who is financially responsible?
- Is this person old enough to have an established credit history?
Having the initial conversation may be intimidating, but if you rehearse, you can get a little more comfortable with what to say. Explain that you're hoping to rent an apartment, but have trouble getting approved on your own. For example, you make enough money to afford the monthly rent payments, but you don't have an established credit history.
Share your plan for making rent payments on time to your potential co-signer in order to reassure him or her that you're trustworthy. For example, you may set up a monthly rent reminder a few days before the first of the month.
Once you have agreement from the co-signer, you can move forward with the lease process. If you've already filled out an application, the next step is to have the co-signer complete an application. After the co-signer is approved, you're ready to sign the lease and get a move in date from the landlord.
Alternatives to Getting a Co-signer
If you're not able to find a co-signer, you still have options. In some cases, landlords may be willing to approve your rental application if you can make a bigger security deposit or prepay rent. By making a big financial commitment right off the bat, the landlord may be convinced that taking you on as a tenant is not as risky as initially thought.
Looking for apartments from individual landlords that don't do credit checks is also an option, but you'll still need to meet the income qualifications. Finally, depending on your timeframe, you may be able to work on repairing your credit or raising your income so you can qualify for an apartment without a co-signer.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How can I find a co-signer for an apartment?
A co-signer for an apartment may be someone you know who's willing to agree to make payments if you can't. It could be a parent, relative, friend, or significant other. If none of these are an option, some apartments may allow you to use a co-signing company who charges a fee to co-sign a lease with you, such as Leap Easy.
Does co-signing for an apartment affect your credit?
Some landlords check your credit if you're co-signing an apartment. These inquiries can affect your credit score, even if you don't move forward with the lease. If the lease ends with a balance due—because of eviction or unpaid damages—the amount may be sent to a collection agency who could report the outstanding balance to the credit bureaus.
Can parents co-sign for a house?
Parents are an option for co-signing a house if you're renting it. The landlord or property management company may have specific requirements for co-signers, including income, employment history, and rent or mortgage payment history.
The People's Law Library of Maryland. "Cosigning a Lease."
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee University Legal Clinic. "Tenant Rights and Responsibilities: The Basics of Renting," Page 3.
Reliance Realty. "Renter's Guide."
Leap Easy. "Renters."