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A roommate can be a built-in friend in a brand new city — someone you can rely on to split a Seamless order and a bottle of wine with while watching the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.”
But all too often, shared living situations can also be a pain in the you-know-what. Roommates can be loud, messy, intrusive and — worst of all — they might leave you in the lurch when it comes to covering the cost of rent, utilities and other apartment expenses. That can be a major drain on your finances and can wreak havoc on your credit if you’re the one with your name on the lease. Here's how to divide the bills and avoid potential money fights.
1. Choose your roommates carefully.
One of the best ways to avoid roommate money squabbles is to be strategic about who you live with, says Harlan Cohen, an advice columnist and author of “The Naked Roommate,” a guide to college dorm living. Consider your roomie-to-be’s personality. “If you have a friend who has a history of being irresponsible and messy, they will be irresponsible and messy when you move in together,” he says.
To get a better sense of your future roommate's financial responsibility, Cohen even suggests asking the person to share his or her credit history — and providing your own. If that feels awkward, remind the person that if their credit history is inadequate, you’ll need a co-signer.
2. Lay the ground rules.
Once you've decided to live together, it's time to have that annoying talk about the bills. “Talking about money can be really uncomfortable, especially when people don’t have a lot of it,” says Cohen. To make it easier, he recommends creating a document outlining all of your shared expenses, the total cost, what each person owes, who’s responsible for paying what and how he or she will be reimbursed. Putting this all in writing can make any money issues a lot less uncomfortable later on.
Here are a few costs to consider:
- Furniture and appliances
- Utilities (internet, gas, electric, cable)
- Cleaning supplies
- Shared accounts like Amazon Prime and Netflix
- Food (Will you share groceries? What happens if someone eats someone else’s food?)
Then think about how you’ll pay each other back — and how often. Venmo once a month? A check every two weeks? Any system is OK as long as you both agree on it.
Cohen also recommends drafting additional rules around things like visitors, which could affect how you feel about the money you spend on the apartment. For example, if your roommate’s significant other spends five nights a week at your place, you might wind up feeling resentful that that person isn’t paying rent or is using all the toilet paper you bought. So, you might want to decide, together, that a guest who, say, stays over more than four nights every week has some financial responsibility for the apartment.
3. Discuss worst-case scenarios.
Another important topic for discussion: What happens if one person decides to stop paying rent or is unable to cover the cost due to an unfortunate turn of events, like a job loss? Decide what you’ll do if one roommate decides to leave, especially mid-lease, suggests Cohen. For example, come to an agreement about how far in advance that person needs to give notice and who’s responsible for finding a replacement. Anticipating what could go wrong and putting your agreed-upon solutions in writing can make things a lot less stressful.
Then you can go back to focusing on the fun stuff, like planning your next “Game of Thrones” night.