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Don't let money split roommates

For recent college graduates, school's out forever -- just as Alice Cooper sang.

No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks. Just the cruel, unbending consequences of the real world.

One surefire way to make post-grad life hell is to move in with your BFF and just go with the flow financially.

Sure, every night is like a slumber party at first. But one day you wake up with dog pee on your Anthropologie rug and collection agencies blowing up your phone about an unpaid electric bill in your name. Suddenly you're packing up boxes and looking for a new best friend.

You've seen enough episodes of the People's Court to see how badly this arrangement can end. But with a little planning, you can head into adulthood with both your credit score and your friendships intact.

Kiplinger.com has put together a road map for roomies, called "8 Reasons Roommates Fight Over Money." It suggests writing up a roommate agreement to avoid common pitfalls, then signing it and having it notarized.

Here's what to include:

*Decide whether the person with the biggest room should pay the biggest portion of rent.

*Write up a schedule of what bills are due when, and how much each person will pay. You can do it digitally at websites such as WePay.com or BuxFer.com, but it might be more effective to have a hard copy you can post in the kitchen where everyone will see it often. Check off your name as you pay your share.

*Find out how much it will cost if you have to break your lease early. Then decide whether the one who bails is the one liable for the penalty and forfeited security deposit.

*Come up with a plan for handling unexpected large expenses. The best way to do this may simply be to buy renters insurance. It can cost as little as $12 a month and is worth every penny.

*If you've agreed on pets, decide where they are allowed to be and who is responsible for any damages they cause.

*How will you pay for groceries? Will you make a list together then split the cost evenly? Will you buy your own stuff and keep it separated? Better to discuss it now with a level head than when you're jonesing for Cheez-Its and find nothing but an empty box.

*A fight always arises over the utility bill. Why am I paying half the cost when she's the one using all the electricity? Sure, I can't sleep without the fan running, but I'm always the one turning out the lights in empty rooms.

Kiplinger suggests splitting the bill evenly so everyone has an incentive to keep costs down or agreeing on a range at which to keep the thermostat.

I know all this planning sounds boring, but the work you put in now will pay off big time in the future. Hey, maybe you can even turn it into a drinking game. Every time someone says, "Oh come on, we are never going to have to worry about this!" take a swig of your Four Loko.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com or call MoneySmart at 849-4612. Follow the Diva at www.Facebook.com/DiscountDiva

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