A little over a year ago, I moved in with my boyfriend. After I donated the majority of my decade-old furniture, we packed the remainder into a U-Haul, and drove to my new home: a majestic Manhattan high-rise. I was ecstatic! And I still am—the apartment I’m living in totally rocks. Still, in the first few weeks of living together, the egalitarian in me wasn’t totally home free. There was something bugging me about the fact that my guy was (and is) an apartment owner, living in a building I could not (and still can’t) afford.
Splitting Expenses Is A Touchy Subject
“Don’t split his mortgage!” warned multiple girlfriends, who themselves regretted paying towards their now-ex’s equity. It didn’t matter that my guy had never actually asked me to split his mortgage—their reservations touched on some of the major issues I was debating. What is fair when it comes to splitting expenses? How do I avoid the feeling that he’s my landlord? I didn’t want to take advantage, but I didn’t know exactly where to draw the line. And I soon realized I'm not the only one.
We asked the this of some of our Twitter followers: “If your partner asks you to move in, would you help to pay his or her mortgage bill?” Turns out, the answer was a resounding “Sure! It’s just like paying rent.” Actually ladies … it’s not. Not at all.
Half of Mortgage Does Not Equal Rent
Reader Alyssa (not her real name) was the first to tell me never to contribute to a mortgage you don’t have equity in. “Do not—I repeat, do not, pay any part of his mortgage,” she said in an e-mail. “It is a lose-lose arrangement.” Think about it: when and if you break up, “you have to face the fact that you have paid off some of his or her mortgage."
Farnoosh Torabi, LearnVest money etiquette expert and author of Psych Yourself Rich backs up Alyssa’s doubts. “In general I am not a fan of splitting debt with someone who isn’t your legal partner. I understand some may not be the marrying type, or simply can't (legally) get married,” Torabi explained. “But unless there's a major commitment, splitting a mortgage is a recipe for disaster—both for your finances and your relationship.” Plus, she adds, “Just because you're giving him or her 50% of the mortgage payment, you're not technically ‘splitting’ the mortgage. Your name is not on the deed and you don't have any owner’s rights.” And unless you sign a renter’s contract, you don’t have any tenant’s rights, either.
Set Your Limits
If your partner asks you to pay half of the mortgage, try suggesting some alternatives. “Offer to pay for utilities, food or other costs that may add up to half the mortgage,” Torabi advises. And, if you start to feel guilty, “keep in mind that your partner bought this house trusting that he or she would be able to make that monthly payment on his or her own.”
“Of course it’s important to contribute to the housing costs once you're living together,” she added. “But don't feel obligated to pay 50% just because.”
The Worst That Could Happen
I asked Alyssa if she could shed some light on the emotional realities of paying towards your partner’s mortgage. “When you contribute to his or her mortgage, you have helped to lessen their overall debt," she said. "He or she will now have less to pay. And at some point, another person might move in and enjoy the paid-off apartment—which your money contributed to. And you are left with nothing.” She made a good point—I don't know about you, but I never worried about who was moving in after me when I rented from a landlord.
Calling it Even
Ultimately, my man and I came up with an arrangement. We each pay into a joint checking account, which is used for utilities, maintenance, groceries, and other household supplies—and he pays his mortgage on his own. Sure, I still feel pangs of guilt every now and again when I start counting dollars and cents. On those days, I make dinner, or pick up take-out—and we call it even.
Tell us in the comments: Would you split your partner’s mortgage? Or, as a homeowner, would you expect a cohabiting partner to chip in?