Sharing Utility Bills: Roommate Apps and Solutions
Sharing utility bills doesn’t have to be complicated. Our digital world provides a number of handy apps that making splitting the bills a breeze — as long as you can agree on the right percentages. Here’s how to start a bill sharing project with new roommates.
Take a Look at Your Lease
It’s a good idea to start by taking a close look at your lease and how payments are supposed to work. Utility costs vary based on the lease structure: Sometimes basic utilities like water and waste disposal are separate from nominal rent, although more often they are lumped together. Heating may or may not be included in the basic rent fee. Electricity is more often separated, but there are no guarantees. Sometimes specific payment options also exist for more optional services (those where splitting costs is particularly important) like Internet, Cable TV, and phone services.
Looking at your lease is the first step to creating a payment plan that makes sense and that everyone can agree on. Know exactly what costs are incorporated into your monthly rent payment and which are separate.
Talk It Out
Before sharing utility bills, you need to have a serious discussion with your fellow renters about how payments will be split. The traditional method for splitting basic services like heating and electricity is to divide it into percentages based on the living area each person has, with areas like the kitchen split evenly between all renters.
Optional services are more complicated. If a roommate wants Cable TV to watch sports, but you don’t really watch any Cable, should you both pay the same amount? If you need a fast Internet service for a home business but your fellow renters are content with a slower service, should you pay more than them? Find percentages that are appropriate to your activities and make sure that everyone agrees.
This is also a good time to decide who will be in charge of making payments and managing the process, if necessary.
Picking the Right App
These days the easiest method of sharing utility bills is to use an app that all renters can download and access. There are a number of popular, inexpensive and compatible options to consider. Consider these:
Splitwise: Splitwise, available for both iOS and Android, is a free app designed to split expenses between two or more people. The system allows you to save several people in one group, create expenses and IOUs, and show everyone exactly what they owe and if anyone owes them money. Splitwise is suitable for a number of applications, but works well for basic apartment costs and offers some advice on the more tricky renting situations.
RentShare: RentShare is a free piece of software that allows you to calculate who owes what and allows you to average out various expenses. It’s more focused on the rent-related aspects of IOUs, with options like online payments directly to the landlord and the option to email invoices for Cable or Internet services to your roommates. It’s an ideal app if you are primarily concerned about utilities.
BillPin: BillPin is quite a bit like Splitwise, except there is more focus on options like snapping pictures of receipts and bills for reference, and less focus on
SpotMe: SpotMe is a simple iPhone app that allows you to use bill tracking with your contacts list, keeping track of who owes money to whom. Think of it as a simplified version of Splitwise if your payment needs are very easy.
Venmo: Venmo takes bill paying a step further and allows you to make direct payments to friends and roommates with your bank account or debit card, removing a step in the process. It may be most useful to use Venmo together with another utility splitting app.
The Old-Fashioned Payment Agreement
If you cannot use an app system, you will have to settle for the traditional payment agreement. However, even if you decide on an app, a payment agreement is still a good idea. This puts all the percentages in writing and provides something for the renters to sign and keep in case of disputes. A little paper in the digital world can go a long way.
Photo Credit: Brandon O’Connor
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