What Is a Credit Reference on a Rental Application?

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A credit reference on a rental application is a business you've had a financial relationship with that can provide information about your payment habits to a prospective landlord.

Key Takeaways

  • Rental applications may request a credit reference to provide additional details about your payment habits.
  • Landlords may ask for information from credit references along with checking your major credit bureau reports.
  • If a credit reference provides negative information, your application could be denied.

Definition and Examples of a Credit Reference on a Rental Application

Credit references are businesses that you've had a financial relationship with that can give some insight into your payment habits. On a residential rental application, a credit reference provides information that helps a landlord decide whether to extend a lease to you.

Credit references can include your bank, companies whose bills you pay regularly, or even previous landlords, supervisors, or perhaps your faith leader. Your landlord may contact the credit references you provide to get more information about your payment habits. Providing credit references that can vouch for you improves your odds of having your application approved.

For example, if your last rent payments were always on time and you moved out with no issues, you may use a previous landlord as a credit reference. If contacted, the landlord should provide a positive review of your payment history to help get your new rental application approved.

How Does a Credit Reference on a Rental Application Work?

Landlords use a variety of tools to screen applicants for the most qualified tenants. As discussed, the rental application may request credit references—businesses that can provide more personalized information about working with you and give a recommendation to approve your application.


Landlords may check credit references in addition to accessing your credit report.

The rental application may ask for one or more credit references, along with your authorization to contact them about your application. Credit references should be businesses that can provide positive details about a financial relationship you've maintained. For example, credit references may include a bank that you have a credit card or loan with, a company whose bills you regularly pay, or even previous landlords. If you're applying for an apartment with another person, they may also be required to provide credit references.

For each credit reference, you may be asked to provide the business's name, address, and phone number. The landlord may contact the credit references you provide for information about your account status and payment history. Any negative information from your credit references could cause your application to be denied.

When your new potential landlord contacts your credit references, they can provide the details about having you as a tenant. Your new landlord can use this information, along with the information on your application, and any credit check to approve your application.


Some property management companies may automatically deny your application if a previous landlord refuses to provide a reference.

In screening tenants, landlords have to make sure they're not violating Fair Housing Act laws. Landlords cannot discriminate because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability.

Do I Need a Credit Reference for My Rental Application?

Credit reference requirements for both apartments and houses vary among property management companies. A rental application may require credit references, landlord references, or neither. Some applications don't require credit references initially, but the landlord may follow up with a request for them if seeking additional information about your payment history.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hornig Cos. "Affordable Property Tenant Screening & Rental Application Policy." Accessed Sept. 7, 2021.

  2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Housing Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act." Accessed Sept. 7, 2021.

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