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Splitting Bills When One of You Is in Debt

Taking the cohabitation step with your honey is a big deal and it may take some time to adjust to the new arrangement. It also requires more thoughtfulness on both accounts, and inevitably more money talk is involved as bills and rent need to be paid.

A friend of mine is moving with her guy to another state in just a few months. Her boyfriend is working and going to graduate school and has accumulated debt in the form of student loans, while she works as a waitress and has an unpredictable income stream. She wanted my opinion about whether or not she should pay a larger percentage of bills or rent because of her boyfriend's debt. Find out what I told her when you


I immediately answered that no, she should only be responsible for her portion of living expenses. I've seen women put their own financial goals aside in order to please boyfriends by making their lives easier, but there are just too many risks associated with this. How can she think of trying to help her guy when she's made it known to all of her friends that her own finances aren't healthy?

Simply stated, she needs to put herself first before trying to help out someone else. I asked my friend to pose this question: What would he do without her? Obviously, he would have to rely on himself to pay bills and rent. She shouldn't ignore her own rocky financial situation in order to feel like she's doing the right thing for him.

Do you think I'm too harsh? Have you ever faced this situation?


Join The Conversation
aylee aylee 9 years
I agree with you, I would only pay for my share. But if we're married, it may be different. If he can't afford his loans plus his share of living expenses, then we're gonna sit down and talk about including the loans in with our shared expenses and distribute accordingly.
darkangel2305 darkangel2305 9 years
Me and my boyfriend have 2 joint acct; one for house and fixed expenses and another one for personal money + gas and groceries. We put both our salaries into the accts and everything is paid from them. We do own a home together plus our debt is actually pretty much the same for each (sadly so). It works out for us.
pklotus pklotus 9 years
I agree with the advice you have given. Right now I am the only one working in my relationship. My boyfriend (who I do not live with) just graduated college and hasn't entered the working world yet. I am in school and working and trying to pay off a little bit of debt. Sometime it's challenging when we are together because he wants to do things and eat out but can't back it up finance wise. I put forth when I can but sometimes I have to step up and remind him we both need to watch our spending. I can see cohabitation in the future but he will definately be working and have substancial savings, I will also make sure I am completely out of debt. It just seems more responsible me and I wouldn't want to move into a potential financial disaster.
carhornsinapril carhornsinapril 9 years
regarding the student loan tax deduction that LadyAngel89 mentioned--there's a cutoff on that. i think i paid well over $4k in student loan interest last year, but they only let me claim the maximum of $2700, or something like that. unfortunately, it's not a free pass on student loan interest, though i wish it were.
tlight tlight 9 years
In this case, both parties are a little shakey with thier finances, so i think your advice is bang on. They will be struggling together, but they each need to contribute equally. If one or the other in a relationship is making significantly more, it does put strain on the one with debt. (and when the debt is from school, not retail, I think this is more true) If all of my money is going to my debt and our split expenses, what is left over to spend on time with my boyfriend? NOTHING. In the end, the better-paid partner will have to shell out a lot of cash to pay for the perks in the relationship.
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
I agree with you, savvy. I don't think someone's personal debt should be considered - that should be handled separately by the individual that incurred the debt. (Although I agree also that married couples are different.)
MelissaIsTheBest MelissaIsTheBest 9 years
lizs lizs 9 years
I agree with you, savvy! I am in a similar situation, though my bf's debt is plain ol' credit card recklessness (not a lot, about 5k, all from before he knew me). He has suggested that he could get out of debt faster if I paid more rent, especially since I make more money, but that won't happen until we're married. The wedding is on the horizon, but I'm too cynical to believe that our plans are for now, his debt is his own. (A few hours spent watching Judge Judy would make any girl realize that without a legal agreement in place she is too vulnerable to help with anyone else's money problems!)
Berlin Berlin 9 years
It depends...if this is a person you are planning to share a life with and are going to marry eventually then yes, you should. You are each other's support system and why not fit the bill if you can? You help each other out so that you can build a stable life for the 2 of you, not leaving your SO stranded while you are fine. If you can, then do.
nycactres nycactres 9 years
Me and my bf are in the same situation. We both make the same salary and he has credit card debt and i have none. We split everything though and sometimes i pick up the slack with going out and treat him. He appreciates and I can tell he does because he tells me all the time.
LadyAngel89 LadyAngel89 9 years
She should not be paying a greater portion of the bills. That would in no way benefit her and although it may feel like she's doing a good thing you have to remember that for student loans you can usually deduct the interest you pay on your taxes. I can agree that sometimes everyone needs help and then theres people that can't manage money (like my live-in). We came to the conclusion of opening a joint account and putting in equal amounts of money each month to cover all of the bills + our individual debt and then some. Everything is paid out of this account. If one of us couldn't contribute as much we always considered the extra that we put in on months past as a buffer. Lot less stressful when we know everything's paid and we have a mutual agreement on how much money we're both contributing.
texgirl texgirl 9 years
Can i just say that as a 24 year old, working in new york city, making little and doing as much as possible to get out of my on-going student loan debacle. all of the above advice has been great. regardless of whether or not i'm in a relationship or living with someone i feel that anything and everything helps. just wanted to say thanks to each of you for putting your posts out there. i really appreciate it, as I am sure others do too.
Angelica Angelica 9 years
I think your advice is spot on Savvy. It's hard to say what the future holds for any couple so I think couples just need to sit down and talk about their debt and personal and shared financial goals.
HelloAnia HelloAnia 9 years
I agree, I am in the same boat, although I am still in college, I bring in more money than my live in boyfriend, because he needs to pay off his college loans and credit cards in addition to his reasonably higher salary... so in the end I am a little better off, but we realize that money changes everything, and we pay for everything split evenly in half.
klowndancer klowndancer 9 years
I was in the opposite situation where I had debt *and* was making (A LOT) less than my partner. Because of this his lifestyle choices were far more extravagant than mine and still money was a stresser. I ended up paying a certain amount for rent that approximated what I paid when we first moved in together. He didn't mind paying a little extra rent-wise but we split most other bills (he got our DSL, I could have managed without it so he paid). We still had conflicts around grocery costs and date-places costs because I had to be very careful budgeting and he didn't. I think it's important to make sense of the situation. Compromises are ok as long as you make boundaries and the person with the greater income isn't straining themselves uncomfortably. I understand the stress that comes with supporting someone but often the person who is getting a financial break can pitch in extra with other aspects of life. (Organizing things, household chores, etc.) Having an unconfrontational conversation about the situation and being realistic with what you each can contribute is important. It's not fun feeling like you can't afford to get dinner/drinks out with your partner because of your budget. I prefer to alternate paying for things when I can. Some of my older friends disagree and say "he should pay for everything" but, if I don't scare men away by offering to pay occasionally, they tend to appreciate it.
Knight-Who-Says-Ni Knight-Who-Says-Ni 9 years
This happened to me. My longtime, live-in boyfriend found himself in some credit card debt. Rather than just telling him he had to still pay half of everything, I relaxed the rules and picked up some of the slack. We transferred his debt to a zero-interest card and calculated how long it would take to pay it off by the time the card's interest rate went up. He made regular payments, took care of it, then paid me back the money he owed me from my picking up most of the rent. This worked well for us, but it was really stressful and I did become a little resentful about the whole situation. Now, though, it's behind us and he knows how to not fall into that trap again. I feel that it really worked out for the best for us, since I didn't totally bail him out by paying off the debt for him (I had the money to do so), but when you're in a serious relationship you also just can't leave your partner adrift. We really struck a balance.
MindayH MindayH 9 years
I would split rent, utilities etc - but maybe buy groceries more often, or pay for something that isn't a fixed expense. As much as things should be even - I would feel weird knowing that I don't have the debt that he has, yet paying the exact same.
supercoolnat supercoolnat 9 years
Oh yeah, one follow up to my comment above: Our decision for how we handled money while he was in med school, was based on the fact that that if he did help pay for rent, etc, he'd actually have to take out larger loans. Which means that later on, after med school and after we were married, the debt would be even bigger.
supercoolnat supercoolnat 9 years
Hard to say what she should do, it all depends on her own situation and their relationship. For myself, when my husband and I were living together as bf/gf, and later when we were engaged, he was actually in med school the whole time. He paid his more "personal" bills, such as car insurance and cell phone, but I generally supported us by paying rent, utilities, and most groceries and household stuff. It worked out well, but I don't think it would definitely work for everyone. Now that we're married, he's got a gigantic student loan, but he's also making money. All bills except the student loans are paid out of our joint account, to which I contribute my salary (minus some extra personal cash) and he contributes his salary (minus personal $$ and student loans).
TsuKata TsuKata 9 years
When I moved in with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, I had debt in the form of student loans and a car payment, which he did not. He makes a little less, but I had more debt, so the end result was that I took home less after my expenses. The only break he gave me was in terms of "rent" (my share of the mortgage, as he owned a house). I paid $200 a month toward his $890 a month mortgage/homeowners. Normal rent for a 1BR in our area would have been $600 at least, and I'd been paying $915 a month before we moved in together, so I was getting a significant deal. Everything else, we split down the middle or divided based on interest (e.g., DirecTV was a bigger deal for him than for me, so he covered that...and wireless internet was a bigger deal for me, so I covered that). His theory was that whether I was there or not, he'd be paying that mortgage bill, and as I wouldn't be entitled to any portion of the house if I moved out (by our signed agreement and by the co-habitant laws in our state), it would be unfair of him to charge me an equal half, when I wouldn't get to enjoy the tax benefits or the investment gain. Your friend might want to adopt a similar view. Would she be getting the same apartment/house with or without him? If so, she could alleviate her guilt and his burden by just charging him a meager rent amount. It's also a good idea for her to keep that in mind when getting a place, if that's part of the plan, because if they break up, she could get saddled with the entire bill. Thus, it's not a bad idea to plan on getting a place that she/they could live in on just her income if needed. She should double-check her area's laws on co-habitation in general, too. Depending on the state, if they live together long enough, it's possible for his creditors to make a claim against her income for his debt, if he falls very behind on it.
mini_pixie mini_pixie 9 years
lawchick, I totally get you on the distinction between a husband and a boyfriend. Now that I think about my own situation, my hubby and I have never kept separate financial arrangements, and shared everything, including his debt, when we moved in together (and got married 18 months later) I actually have no idea what we did to split out costs- probably nothing!
True-Song True-Song 9 years
Tough one. It didn't have to do with debt, but when my boyfriend and I moved in together, I made about 50% more than he did, so we agreed to split the bills in ratio to our income. I forget the figure, but something like for each bill, I paid 65% and he paid 35%. I think adjusting who pays what based on income seems more fair than based on debt. Now we have joint checking, though. So much easier. It depends on their relationship, too. The word boyfriend is so vague, it can apply to someone you've been dating for three months or your life partner of five years.
bigestivediscuit bigestivediscuit 9 years
I agree with Savvy ... you can pay more once or twice for maybe a special occasion, etc. but his debt is not your debt (whether you are living together or not!) and you need to look after yourself.
lawchick lawchick 9 years
oops, boyfriend (singular)
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