5 Hidden Costs of Having Roommates

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Living with roommates is commonly touted as a way to save money. But sharing an apartment and a utility bill doesn't automatically cut your bills in half.

Just ask Walter G. Meyer, a writer in Southern California who's had roommates for much of his adult life. "On the whole, it's worth it, but I have experienced just about all the bad things one could with roommates," he says.

Since Meyer typically takes the lead on paying bills, he once got stuck with a larger-than-usual electric bill for his last month in an apartment, which his roommates refused to pay. Other times, roommates broke the microwave or stole his CD player when they moved out. "I guess I'm a little too trusting and a little too quick to refund people's security deposits," he admits. "Now I would take steps to check and make sure the final bills are final."

Here's a look at some of the most common financial sticking points for roommates as well as strategies and apps for handling them.

1. Utilities. If one roommate likes to crank up the heat, while the other prefers to conserve energy and save money, that can lead to tension over utility bills. Living in an apartment where some utilities are included can remove this issue from discussion.

If utilities aren't included, Annamarie Pluhar, author of Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates (Bauhan, 2011), recommends discussing temperature levels and energy use with prospective roommates before signing a lease together. "I have a friend who rents a group house, and she makes it really clear upfront that the house is kept at 55 degrees in the wintertime," adds Pluhar. "People should be prepared for that and wear sweaters. If that's a problem, don't move in."

Ditto on discussions about cable TV or internet. If one person insists on getting premium cable to watch HBO or HGTV and the other doesn't want to pay for it, those issues should be hashed out upfront. The person who wants cable or the ability to blast the AC should be prepared to pay more, adds Pluhar.