How to deal with the financial consequences of my girlfriend's tough times?
November 12, 2012 7:15 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is consistently late in paying her month's share of the utilities, and sometimes she doesn't pay it at all. Everything is in my name and I'm worried my credit score is taking a tumble. Please help.

She can't put the utilities in her name because her credit is poor and she would have to pay a $400 fee to put one in her name. I can't afford to pay her share but since I pay mine we haven't had things cut off. She's in a tough financial situation right now and is months behind on other things too, she's also taking up a winter job to try to pay her share.

What do I do once this job ends? I can't stand the stress of seeing the utility bills growing and growing each month because half of it isn't paid. But more than that, I have this deep-seated fear that consistent lay payments will hurt my credit. I'm on one of those credit monitoring websites and it has my percentage of on time payments as "poor."

I don't know what couples do when one can't afford their share, the other can't afford to cover them, but you're a couple so you can't just move out or tell them to pack their bags. Not that I have a desire to do those things, but what DO you do when the standard "roommate fails to pay their share of the bills" involves someone you're building a life with?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In my second-hand experience, couples in your situation:

(1) Get another roommate, or
(2) Move into a much smaller space, usually shared with roommates, or
(3) Move in with one set of parents or the other, or
(4) Get living assistance from their parents, or
(5) Break up

Basically you need to either treat this as a couple (which means working together to lower bills to a rate that you can afford on your joint salary, or increasing your salary), or you treat it like you are two individuals (which means you need to move to a place where you don't have to rely on her income).
posted by muddgirl at 7:23 AM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

Have you guys sat down and actually run the numbers on everything? Like, get a bunch of paystubs, the last two or three months of bills and receipts, and just made a spreadsheet and see where the money is going?

If you're having trouble paying the bills, you need to know where every penny you two spend is going. Right now, it sounds like your conception of the financial situations is nebulous, and so is hers. That's the only way you'll recover enough money to survive. Basically, you two need to get your shit together, financially, and fast. Sign up for, start tracking all your spending religiously, and analyze, analyze, analyze. If, over the course of a month, you can save twenty dollars on driving less, five dollars on buying store-brand cereal, fifteen dollars on not ordering out, all that adds up and quick.

The other thing is that financial irresponsibility -- whether or not it is anyone's "fault" -- is a dealbreaker for many people. If you two can't get your shit together enough to actually get your bills paid on time, that does not bode well for any future you're building together. "Fixing" this is a long-term project, but if you can't at least sit down and put together a comprehensive account of your spending, this relationship will continue to be mired in financial anxiety. And take a look at divorce statistics: differences over money is pretty high up there as the reason.
posted by griphus at 7:27 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

OH! And do not borrow money to pay off bills. That is really just the worst-case scenario. Got a TV? Sell your TV. Got a nice computer? Sell your nice computer and get cheaper one. Is there a decent-condition couch no one ever sits on? Sell it on craigslist. Dollars to donuts you're sitting in plenty of things that can make you money if you can deal with the inconvenience of losing these things. And if you want to keep this relationship going, I suggest you quickly learn to deal with inconveniences such as these.
posted by griphus at 7:31 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Am I missing something? Why is the girlfriend getting a "winter job" that will inevitably end? Why not just a regular job?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:33 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

For the sake of easily keeping track of expenses (and who owes what), I would highly recommend the Splitwise app. It's amazing.
posted by hellomina at 7:36 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

How are you splitting the bills? 50/50 doesn't work for couples with different levels of income.

If (for example) you make twice what she does, and you see a future with this person, then without judgement or expectation of "payback," you add up the monthly bills, divide them by 3, and you pay 2/3.

You also have to agree what constitutes income and monthly bills. If she's paying on a Kohl's card that she keeps running up, you naturally don't want to pay for that. But she's likely to include that as "monthly bills" so y'all need to come to an understanding on that.

If she continues to not make her (for example) 1/3, there is a problem deeper than income.

Much luck to you. It took me 20 years of marriage to accept this and find ways to move past it. I've historically been irresponsible with money and working with a partner who has historically and IN THE PRESENT been irresponsible with money is slippery and difficult. After 20+ years including a time when I was in your exact situation but didn't have any resources to talk with and learn from, I can say that it impacts on your ability to trust the other and it affects the way you see the other. I felt for awhile as if she regarded me as an open checkbook, and recognizing times when I pulled her out of financial holes while she continued to dig *other* financial holes for herself and for ourselves...and recognizing that she still does difficult at best.

I accept that she's not in a place right now to help, and I try really hard not to be a dick about it. I limit my exposure to situations where her lack of ability to contribute will affect me. I plan as much as I can so that she can't blow a hole in our budget. When these situations loom -- such as every month when the bills she agreed to contribute to are paid in full by me -- I pay them and think of the other things she brings to my life.
posted by Infinity_8 at 7:36 AM on November 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think you either have to accept that you are a "Team" and the team needs to pay these bills ie you have to pay her share as well. A joint account can be useful for this if you can get automated movements into the account.

or if you are going to ask her to cover her share entirely then you need to move somewhere and reduce the bills to the level SHE can afford - not the level you can afford.

Find a cheaper place to live. Spend less money.
posted by mary8nne at 7:37 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

How are you splitting the bills? 50/50 doesn't work for couples with different levels of income.

Yeah, this is both an important realization to come to and also a really difficult one to come to. There's a lot of feelings that "Fair share" equals 50/50, but when one person makes more than another that just can't work, for a lot of reasons. At the same time though, it can feel frustrating to the person who makes more money to feel constrained.

If you are planning to build a life with this person, figure out a bill-sharing plan that is reasonable with current finances.
posted by corb at 7:42 AM on November 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

You could open a joint account for shared expenses only, like rent and utilities, with direct deposit out of both of your paychecks. That way, you can make sure that the bills are getting paid on time, and your credit is not being destroyed.

Have you been living together a long time? Did your girlfriend move in to your apartment, or did you find a place together after examining finances together to determine what you both could reasonably afford? It sounds like you may have recently moved in together and have not worked out the specifics of finances. Does she understand that her failure to pay bills on time is having negative and long-lasting effects on your credit score?

In addition to the options muddgirl mentioned above, you both could get second jobs. If my partner was in a tough financial situation, I would not think twice about getting a second (or third) job to help pay our bills. Of course, this becomes a lot more difficult if you feel that your partner is financially irresponsible or you feel resentful that they are unable to pay their agreed upon share.
posted by inertia at 7:49 AM on November 12, 2012

But more than that, I have this deep-seated fear that consistent lay payments will hurt my credit

Um yea, it will. You need to pay these bills yourself if they are in your name. Maybe she will reimburse you, maybe she won't. Accept that or move out.
posted by murfed13 at 7:57 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Welcome to living with a spouse! Yay!

I think you need to sit down alone and think about whether you see a future with her. I only say this because it looks like you're investing a lot of stress and money to keep your lives together and if it's a passing phase then maybe its time to break it off before you find yourself paying her debts for years to come. (My husband and his previous LTR racked up a ton of loans and credit cards in his name - guess who ended up paying off their luxurious lifestyle? His wife [me]).

Alright - you've decided this is the one. Well now it's a reality check. Despite living in the 2000's, not everything is 50/50. Women make 20% than they're male counter parts. Ignoring that - generally in relationships one person will bring home more money then the other. In my marriage we've always swapped (my husband works on contracts - sometimes his paycheck blows mine completely away, sometimes he's unemployed). If you see a future with this lady and she has been trying to remedy her credit - think about your incomes as a whole. After a few months my husband and I opened up a joint account and since then it wasn't his income or my income, it was our money. That's what worked for us. BUT THIS IS ONLY AN ISSUE IF YOU TRUST HER. If you can't trust her with money, you can't trust her with your heart.

I hope that helps a bit.
posted by Danithegirl at 8:09 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
She makes more money than me but has more expenses. I can't afford to pay more than half or pay her share. She has a job already but is taking up a second job during the winter. I'm a woman too.

That's all. Thank you and thanks for all the advice so far!
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:47 AM on November 12, 2012

I agree with everything inertia said.
I am married, but we have always tried to keep our spending money separate, but until we started paying bills out of a separate joint account, we always fought about money. Now we pay into that account each time we get a paycheck (it should be based on income %) and make sure there is enough in there for gas, groceries, rent, etc. Anything else that is personal spending comes from our own personal accounts. If one partner is consistently not able to contribute their share into the joint account then you need to scale back your living expenses or raise your income or both, but they will have to be done as a team. Make a budget and stick to it, but keep separate spending accounts after the bills have been paid. Often it's not really that we can't afford our monthly living expenses but that we spend money before bills are paid and its hard to know when to stop spending. Separating the essential bills and the things that need to be paid from the "wants" is the best way to manage spending without feeling like you are broke all the time.
posted by photoexplorer at 8:55 AM on November 12, 2012

If she has more expenses than you, can you offer to help her figure out ways to reduce them? Can you both move to a less expensive apartment, or give up some luxuries, until she has her debt under control?
posted by chaiminda at 9:03 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't afford to pay more than half or pay her share.

Let me elaborate a little on what I said above. When you put anything in your name and your name only, you have to be confident that you can pay 100% of that bill if need be. This is because you need to protect your credit health. If you are in a situation where you personally cannot cover these bills, you need to downsize -- or make up the difference with another roommate or second job-- ASAP. Your girlfriend has bad credit, and cannot be trusted to maintain your credit.
posted by murfed13 at 9:05 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your level of commitment to couplehood is such that "you can't just move out or tell them to pack their bags," then at a certain fundamental level there is no "my share" and "your share". You need to jointly figure out what your (realistic) incomes and joint expenses are and how to divide all that up. If your total incomes fall short of your total expenses, you need to figure out how to (again, realistically and sustainably) either raise your incomes or reduce your expenses.

If your joint income should, in fact, be sufficient to cover base expenses but isn't, then again you need to jointly figure out what needs to get cut out of the discretionary spending.

If she's got ANY room in her personal budget to cut but isn't willing to do so, and instead leaves you on the hook to ruin your credit, you've got to ask yourself whether she's worthy of the level of commitment you're extending when you pledge to "not move out or tell them to pack your bags." But if you truly feel she's acting in good faith and has cut everything to the bone and is making every effort to make her income match your (plural) expenses, then it maybe you both need to step up and take second jobs, or downsize your lifestyle by moving, getting rid of a vehicle, or whatever.
posted by drlith at 9:06 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

She makes more money than me but has more expenses.

The "more expenses" here is the key, and must be addressed specifically. Is she overpaying for essential expenses? Running through cash every month on nonessential expenses? Regularly stuck with unexpected expenses because she has no savings? Any of these may be causing her finances to be out of balance, and they all require slightly different adjustments. I recommend taking a look at All Your Worth -- by Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren! -- as a way of tackling personal finance using this model of balanced finances (50% of income goes to essentials, 30% of income goes to nonessentials, 20% goes to savings).
posted by scody at 11:37 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

She makes more money than me but has more expenses. I can't afford to pay more than half or pay her share.

Then your living expenses (rent/utilities/etc) are too high. This isn't her problem as much as it's the problem you both have.

Her other expenses could be loans or other bills that are non-negotiable, so take those out of the equation and see how much she can afford on utilities and rent. Then see how much money you can afford in utilities and rent. That's how much you can afford, period. You may have to move.
posted by deanc at 12:43 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you guys have a household budget? Because it sounds like you don't, and that is causing a lot of financial stress. The two of you need to be able to meet your bills and live within your joint budget.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Per your new update: that makes a lot of sense, and in that case I would nth those saying that you need to set up a household budget. This is something not negotiable - you need to talk to her about how her expenses impact both of you. She needs to understand it's not just her anymore.

Where are most of her expenses? Are they in things that are negotiable? Otherwise, it sounds like you might need to move to a smaller apartment.
posted by corb at 1:50 PM on November 12, 2012

Yeah, you two can't live together where you live now. You can't afford it. I'm sorry, it sucks.

You need to live somewhere else, either together or separately.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:11 PM on November 12, 2012

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