Sense & Centsibility Blog
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How to Make Your First Apartment Experience a Success

It's that time of year; there are moving vans everywhere. Eighty percent of moves happen between April and September. A significant number of those moves involve young people leaving the nest for the first time and moving into an apartment. If this applies to you, many life lessons await you! Some lessons are painful. Avoid the pain with a little bit of knowledge.

Choose Your Roommates Well

  • Are the roommates dependable? Everyone will be equally liable for the entire rent, not just their portion.
  • Do you all share a similar lifestyle?
  • Do you or they smoke or drink?
  • Will you or they have frequent guests?
  • How will you resolve conflicts?

Is It Affordable?

The rule of thumb is to keep your housing expense at 30% of your income, but this is just a guideline and not necessarily the best measure of affordability. If you have a decent income, the remaining 70% of your income can be substantial. If you are earning minimum wage, the remaining 70% isn’t much.

Spend some time on your budget. Know your monthly net income and recurring expenses (phone, transportation, insurance, etc.). Track spending on food and entertainment. Can you cut some expenses to afford rent? Consider a different neighborhood? More roommates?

Check Your Credit Report

Most landlords use a screening service for prospective tenants, which includes your credit, your rental history and your criminal background. They might have credit score thresholds that you must meet to be considered for a rental. Be proactive; get your free credit reports from to check for errors and other issues that drag your score down before you pay the application fee to the landlord. (If your rental application is denied based on what is in your screening report, you have a right to get a free copy of that report.)

Find the Right Place

  • Is the apartment conveniently located near work, school and public transportation?
  • What is the parking situation?
  • What are the utility costs? 
  • Is the building secure? Can you safely lock up your bike?
  • Do you want houseplants? How is the natural light?

Know Your Lease

A lease is a contract you are legally obligated to fulfill. Breaking a lease can end up on your rental record, making it very difficult to rent in the future. The unpaid rent might be reported to the credit bureaus, ruining your credit. You can also be sued for the unpaid rent, which could lead to wage garnishment and much misery.

It is wise to inspect the apartment thoroughly before signing a lease. Make a list of any issues. Take photographs, too. Have the landlord sign the list, and keep a copy for yourself to avoid disputes later.

Beware of Rental Scams

Look for red flags, such as:

  • Remarkably low rent.
  • Pressure to act quickly.
  • A request to wire money or use a reloadable card.

Ongoing Support to Live on Your Own

Some of the above advice comes from the Minnesota Attorney General’s website. Don’t live in Minnesota? Check with your state’s Attorney General’s office for tenant/landlord information. Learn more from these sites to avoid the pain. And invite your mother to dinner once you move in!

LSS Financial Counseling can provide support to help make the first apartment experience successful for you or your loved one. Our trusted, nonjudgmental counselors can provide tips and resources for reviewing and improving credit scores, budgeting and managing credit card and student loan debt. Call 888.577.2227 for a free, confidential appointment, or get all your support online.

Mary Ellen Kaluza


Author Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling.