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Living with roommates offers plenty of benefits, from reduced living expenses to the built-in companionship they provide. To maintain good relationships with your roommates, it's key that you all agree on how you'll cover housing costs that include rent, utilities and other bill payments. So, what are the best ways to manage joint expenses with your roommates—and what pitfalls should you watch out for? Follow these steps for some tips on successfully managing bills with your roommates.
1. Decide Which Expenses to Split and How
Start by determining which expenses will be shared and how you'll divvy them up. For example, you may want to split the rent evenly, or you may decide the roommate with the bigger bedroom should pay more. Generally, it's easiest to split utility and streaming bills evenly, since keeping track of who took the longest showers or watched the most Netflix gets complicated and can cause squabbling. Unless you eat every meal together, you'll probably want to buy your own groceries too.
2. Create a Roommate Agreement
Putting your payment decisions in writing makes it easy to settle arguments when they arise. In addition to covering financial matters such as rent, bills and security deposit, a roommate agreement can also help you work out solutions to common causes of conflict, such as acceptable noise levels, how long visitors can stay and who cleans the bathroom. You can find sample roommate agreements at legal self-help sites such as RocketLawyer, LegalZoom and Nolo.
3. Decide Who's in Charge
Who will collect the money and pay the bills? Some people put one roommate in charge of paying for everything, but this could lead to resentment if the "bill collector" starts to feel burdened. Another option is putting the most responsible roommate in charge of collecting and paying rent, then parceling out responsibility for utilities to the others. (Bonus: You can have bills in your name added to your credit history if you sign up for Experian Boost®ø, a free service that reports on-time payments for utilities, cellphone service and select streaming services to your Experian credit file.)
4. Set Up a System
You'll need a way to track when bills are due, when money has been collected from each roommate and when the bills have been paid. You could keep a chart on the fridge or maintain a shared spreadsheet to track this info, or keep it simple with an app.
Here are some to consider:
- Use Splittr, Splitwise and SettleUp to add expenses and have the app divvy them up for you. Split expenses proportionately if certain people benefited more or less from the expense (like the roommate with the bigger bedroom). Add recurring expenses, request payments and track payments. All three apps have free versions with ads or ad-free paid versions with a few extra features.
- You could use Venmo to request and send money for free for most transactions. It's primarily designed for payments, and you can use it to split payments you make via the platform.
- Designed for renters, Zently is a free app that sends a free electronic funds transfer or mails a check to your landlord. It also lets you split and settle bills with your roommates and pay directly from your bank account. If you choose, Zently can also report your rent payments to credit bureaus, which helps to build a credit history.
Bill-Splitting Pitfalls to Avoid
Once your bill-sharing plan is set up, make sure it stays on track by watching for common pitfalls and being prepared to avoid them.
- Running out of money: You owe $1,000 for rent, but only have $1.29 in your bank account. Creating a budget for yourself can help prevent this predicament and is a smart move whether or not you've got roommates.
- Irresponsible roommates: If you don't know a potential roommate well, go over their financial situation with them before they move in. You can't check a roommate's credit, but you could ask them to show you a copy of one of their credit reports, which they can access at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also ask to see pay stubs, W-2 tax forms or bank statements to verify their income and see if they can afford the rent.
- Unexpected expenses: When a party gets out of control or a pet has an accident, you may need to pay for repairs or cleanup. Consider setting up a group emergency fund for such situations; while you're at it, start building your own emergency fund.
- Overpaying or underpaying: It's easy to lose track of who paid what and when, especially if recurring amounts are similar each month. Keeping on top of your paper- or app-based tracking system will help.
- Lending your roommates money: If a roommate can't make a payment one month, should you cover them? Frequently spotting a roommate for bills could lead to resentment and leave you short of funds. Emergency funds and roommate agreements can help prevent this.
- Late payments: Late payments can lead to late fees or utilities being shut off. Prevent late payments by collecting money from your roommates well before bills are due so delays caused by bank holds or weekends won't prevent you from paying. Missing a payment due date can also damage the credit score of the roommate whose name is on the bill if the account is sent to collections. Most landlords don't report rent payments to credit bureaus, but late payments can negatively affect your rental history, which landlords check via a tenant screening report when reviewing your rental application.
Manage Shared Expenses Responsibly
Sharing an apartment with roommates can build lifelong friendships—as long as everyone lives up to their financial responsibilities. Keep your home harmonious and your credit score in good shape by creating a plan for managing shared expenses. Consider setting up free credit monitoring to keep tabs on your credit. Paying bills on time can prevent damage to your credit history, making it easier to buy a home of your own someday.