Living with your significant other is harder than most people think; just ask the 38 percent of renters in a recent Rent.com survey who ended a personal relationship with someone while still living together. When you're going through a breakup, things can get messy, and sharing a living space only complicates the matter. Before taking the big step of cohabitation, here are some important financial precautions that will save you from headaches down the road if things don't work out:
1. Decide who pays for what. Before you start searching for an apartment, have a conversation about how much each of you can afford to spend on rent--and remember that it might not be the same amount. More than half (56 percent) of the renters Rent.com surveyed said that rent payments are their biggest required monthly expense, so getting a place you both can afford is a must. You should also discuss how you will split the costs of utilities, household items and any other living expenses that might come up.
2. Write and sign a roommate agreement. You might think it's extreme to sign the renter's equivalent of a prenuptial agreement, but 17 percent of the renters in the survey who were stuck living with their ex said they would take this precaution in the future. Even if you're fortunate to have an amicable breakup, working out the details of your split will be much easier when you've agreed on the terms ahead of time. Your roommate agreement can cover everything from who gets to stay in the apartment to how outstanding bills will be handled. If you share pets, you should also consider who will get custody.
3. Put both names on the lease. It's important to have your name on the lease because it gives you more control in the event of a breakup, as the survey showed 21 percent of renters who went through a split while living together would tell you. If your partner is the only one on the lease, you will be the person forced to find a new home, which can be inconvenient--especially if you love your apartment. Having your significant other's name on the lease is important, too. It won't get you off the hook with your landlord if your ex moves out and doesn't pay his or her portion of the rent, but it's much easier to hold a partner responsible for the money if both names are on the lease.
4. Purchase large items individually. How do you split a couch or TV? Dividing up items was the hardest part of breaking up and moving out for 19 percent of the renters surveyed. Avoid this problem altogether by purchasing large items, like furniture, individually. If that's not financially feasible and you have to purchase expensive items together, keep detailed financial records and include how you will handle splitting these items in your roommate agreement.
5. Keep your finances separate. Combining your finances might seem like it will make living together and paying bills easier--but think about the headache of dividing your shared finances. Worse yet, your ex could clear out your bank account or even damage your credit score. If you choose to open a joint checking account for paying rent, utilities and home expenses, keep the majority of your money in your personal account so you don't end up penniless in the event of a split.
Niccole Schreck is the Rental Experience Expert for Rent.com, the only free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment, gives you tips on how to move and then says, "Thank you" with a prepaid $100 Reward Card.
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