Here is a general overview of what to expect in the renting process.

Filling out the application

The first step is to fill out an application. Typically this is a form online or a paper version that you complete. Either way, once you’ve decided you want this apartment, get an application in as soon as you can, since every day you don’t apply is another day for someone else to show interest in it.

On the application, be ready to complete with the following information: all current personal information, including either a social security or driver’s license number, along with employment information and references. You may also need to provide contact information for someone at your current place as a landlord/renter reference.

Application fee

Applying for an apartment also generally comes along with a few different fees, some refundable and some not.

Depending on the landlord and building, you’ll have to pay an application fee, a processing fee and sometimes a security deposit. Expect to pay as much as $100 or more per person just to apply for an apartment in some areas. The security deposit may come after the application, but it can be a large expense, costing some fraction of the monthly rent.

Proof of income

You need to have money to pay for an apartment, so you’re going to need to prove that you make enough money. Generally, most places require that your household is making three times the rent to qualify, and you’ll need to prove that you have this income. This is where you’ll need two or three recent pay stubs, or a W-2 if you’ve had the job for more than a year. They may also call your employer to get proof of your employment, as well as questions about you and your salary.

Credit check

When applying for the apartment, you’ll also have to give the landlord permission to check your credit. Checking on how financially responsible you are will be an indicator of how well you’ll pay your rent on time. If you have bad or new credit, it’s harder for them to get a feel for your dependability, but don’t try to cover this up. Talk about it when you apply, so you know if you need a co-signer or to depend on your roommate’s credit.

Background check

Like the credit check, this shows your personality and dependability. The application will include both a line authorizing them to do a background check, and somewhere to explain anything on your record.  If you have anything in your past, you’ll want to explain this there, rather than letting them find out without context.

Landlord references

The best indicator if you’ll be a good tenant now is that you were a good tenant in the past. For this reason, you should have your rental history handy to make the application go easier. If you don’t have any past landlords and they’ll have to rely only on your personal references.

Provide references outside of your family, like college professors and employers, so that they’ll be able to give the landlord an idea of your work ethic, responsibility and other important character traits.

Co-signer application

Co-signers or guarantors are people who sign the lease with you, saying they take legal responsibility for covering your rent if you can’t. Providing a co-signer is a good idea if you’re a first-time renter for a lot of reasons.

For one, if you don’t have a rental history, landlords won’t have any information about how dependable you are with rent or if you’ve caused damage before.

Landlords may also request a co-signer if you have poor credit or if your income isn’t more than three times the cost of the rent – that’s a typical income rule that landlords use.

Pending Approval: Signing the Lease

If your rental application gets approved, you’ll then be able to sign the lease!

Everyone living in the apartment will have to be present to sign the lease, and the co-signer will need to sign their own agreement as well. The lease covers expectations for the term (typically apartments are rented out for 12 months at a time), rent, pets, maintenance, subleasing and a variety of other aspects of renting.

Expect the lease-signing process to take a while, since you’ll be covering so much ground. You’ll also most likely have to pay the first month’s rent and any move-in fees or security deposits required by your landlord and the building.