Planing to split the electricity bill with a new roommate - how should the bill be managed in terms of payment so that I protect myself?
June 28, 2012 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Planing to split the electricity bill with a new roommate - how should the bill be managed in terms of payment so that I protect myself? I don't want to get screwed some how.

Living with another roommate, and we decided that since she's leaving for out of the country in the next month and will be away, that I should put the electricity bill under my name. I kinda fell uncomfortable with having a bill with my name on it. One, I feel that I would get stuck with having to pay for something in advance and even though we agree to split the costs, I'm not easy with having her pay me. Would rather get the bill and then have her pay me directly and then use that money to pay the bill.

So although this whole thing may sound silly - is there a best way to handle this? Should I pay for the bill first - and then have her give me the money; or should I just tell her directly to pay me half and then cash that check and then pay for it through my entire name? Sorry if this sounds stupid I just feel like I end up paying for things even though I get reimbursed in a way. Is there a better solution to this? Or what have other people done - so that I just feel more comfortable about this? Thanks.
posted by proficiency101 to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Usually there are a few weeks time between an electric bill arriving and its due date. This should give you ample time to have one roommate pay another who pays the utility company. If you can't work this out, you shouldn't be living together.
posted by barely legal at 8:35 PM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Unless your electricity bill is astronomical, the time value of money here is negligible. That said, there's no reason why you can't ask for half up front each month. If your bill is due on the 30th of each month, getting a check on the 25th will allow ample time for the check to clear before you make the payment (you may need a longer period if you are not paying your bill electronically).

It's not clear whether you think your new roomate won't have the money or simply won't pay - it does make a difference in selecting who to live with, but not for the purposes of this question. Sometimes a clear ground rule can be reassuring to all involved.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:36 PM on June 28, 2012

Sorry if this sounds stupid I just feel like I end up paying for things even though I get reimbursed in a way.

This is probably because the money you are reimbursed gets mixed up with all of your other money, then gets spent on pizza or video games, and then when it comes time to pay the bills, where the fuck is that money?

Can you set up a joint bank account somewhere that you both deposit into, and then pay all of your joint bills from that account? I know many banks offer free checking accounts for students and young people, including Bank of America.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:57 PM on June 28, 2012

Don't forget about bank transfers as an option -- many banks will transfer money for free (within the US) -- it'll probably be immediate if you're at the same bank, or take 3 days if you're not, but you don't have to do that check cashing step.
posted by brainmouse at 8:59 PM on June 28, 2012

Are you willing to become the roommate's creditor? If no, then this is going to become ugly.

If yes you will need to remember: It's your responsibility to pay the bill no matter what (if you want to keep a good credit score). The electric company will not accept 1/2 payments or your excuse that the roommate won't pay.

It is also your responsibility to get payments from the other party. Date them, record them, provide receipts, and get signatures. Put together a signed agreement now explaining that your roommate will pay 50% of the electricity bill and that the payments and bills will be stored in a ledger (Keep all paperwork and bills, and payments of bills!). Ensure it mentions that there will be no consideration for unfair electrical consumption (otherwise when it comes time to extract the money from your roommate in court, it will draw things out when they say your air conditioner was why they wouldn't pay).

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and you won't be unhappy.
posted by shepd at 10:39 PM on June 28, 2012

How I've handled this in the past with roommates is we'd just each write a check for our share to the utility company directly, and send them all in the same payment envelope each month. Our utility company was fine with us sending multiple payment checks.
posted by zombiedance at 10:39 PM on June 28, 2012

Agree with shepd and zombiedance on all counts.

Hard to say if this would work for you but many utility companies will average/level your bill over the year, releveling upon request at which time you make up any discrepancy. Worth a try. Means you and your roommate know exactly what you each owe every month, no surprises. You'd simply agree on a date to collect. Also if above works, it can't hurt to encourage said roomie to set up an auto bank draft and then s/he never has to think about it.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:04 PM on June 28, 2012

When I was in college and had a roommate when bills came due we each wrote a check for half and put it in the envelope and mailed it. This might be your best option so she does not end up owing you money.
posted by jmsta at 3:07 AM on June 29, 2012

Receive bill from electric company, tell roommate(s) how much their share is, receive money from roommate(s), pay bill: that simple. It doesn't matter who is away on vacation or whatever: if they're a resident, they pay until they permanently move out.
posted by easily confused at 3:23 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The main thing is that if your name is on the bill, you have to take pay the money, regardless of what your roommate does, or the credit consequences fall on you. If you suspect your roommate is irresponsible, it's even more important that you get the money from her rather than trusting her to send it directly (although watching her put a check in the envelope would work).
posted by Salamandrous at 5:36 AM on June 29, 2012

How are you managing your other shared bills? Rent, cable and internet?

We used to handle it creating a spreadsheet. Cable was in his name.. the internet was in mine.. water was combined. Every month we split all the bills and had a total, which had to go one way or the other depending on who was paying more for whatever bills were in their names. We both had accounts at the same bank and the bank had a free way to transfer money between account holders so the person who owed the other one money would just transfer them the amount due. We had the spreadsheets and the bank statements to make sure everything was on the level.

As far as the bill leveling suggested by AnOrigamiLife, be careful. We got sort of screwed with that. We were happily paying our monthly bill until the end of the year when they suddenly decided they had been undercharging us and wanted like $600 all at once.
posted by TeknoKid at 8:50 AM on June 29, 2012

If your name is on the bill, you have to pay, and if the roommate flakes out, you're screwed. That said, it has to be in someone's name, and I've never had an issue with roommates flaking on this sort of thing. If you're really worried about this person, I'd seriously question why I was living with them. I wonder if it would help to have your roommate take on another bill in his/her name (i.e. the cable bill or the water bill or something), and then choose a day to settle up each month (perhaps whenever the rent is due) - that way you both have some skin in the game and whatever is owed from one person to the other is hopefully fairly minimal.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:53 AM on June 29, 2012

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