Although roommates can be a great way to split expenses, having the wrong one can impact your financial well-being for years to come. Below are a few simple tips to protect your finances and identity from flaky or ill-intentioned roommates (sadly, when it comes to getting them to wash their own dishes and not eat your food, you’re kind of on your own):
1) Keep enough in savings to cover the rent: This falls under the ‘easier said than done’ category, but if at all possible, try to set aside a little bit each month in case your roommate moves out unexpectedly, leaving you with twice the rent to pay. You don’t want to be evicted because they found their soulmate at Bonnaroo and left you high and dry.
2) If a bill is in your name, make sure you’re the one taking care of it: If you set up the internet/electricity/water under your name, you need to make 100% certain that it’s paid in full each and every month. Keep the bills, show them to your roommate(s) and collect the money before it’s due to send out – don’t leave it to anyone else to pay on your behalf… you could find your power going out, or end up with a nasty surprise next time you run a credit check.
3) Make sure you get a look at any bill that they’re paying for – If they’re the ones taking care of the bills, ask to see what you’re paying for to make sure you’re paying your fair share.
4) Keep a lock box –Yes, it sounds paranoid, but it’s a good idea to keep your most important papers; your passport, social security card, bank info, etc. in a private place inaccessible to your roommates. Access to those documents is a goldmine for identity theft – even if you trust your roommate implicitly, can you say the same for each and every person they bring over? No one other than you has any reason to have access to these documents.
5) Create a guest account on your computer – This one’s related to keeping a lockbox: if you keep any sensitive information on your computer, especially for online banking, keep it private. That doesn’t mean you need to ban anyone and everyone from ever using your laptop – just create a guest account. This way, your roommate can check their email or look up a movie time without having access to your financial information.
6) Take your name off the lease when you go (if you can) – Even if you haven’t lived there in over a year, as long as your name’s on the lease, you’re on the hook for anything that happens in the apartment. Any charges, including damages or late rent, can and will also be charged to you and negatively impact your credit. Any changes made to a rental agreement before your lease is up needs to be approved by your landlord, so this might not be entirely possible – but it’s worth a shot… just remember that you’re asking the landlord/owner for a favor, so you should be asking as nicely as possible.