Pros and Cons of Summer Roommates

Spring is coming to a close and summer is quickly approaching ~ although the snowstorm that hit this weekend makes me think otherwise! Second year in a row that we have had a Mother’s Day snowstorm.  What is up with this weather?!

Mother's Day Snowstorm

A Trip Down Roommate Memory Lane

It’s time for Mr. Debt Albatross and I to determine if we want summer roommates. We have hosted two roommates prior and had two completely different experiences.  Our first roommate experience was great.  Roommate 1 was all of the things you look for in a roommate. He was clean, respectful, pleasant to interact with, timely with payments plus much, much more.  He was well-traveled, a great cook, down-to-earth, helped out, and the type of guy who you would want to have a beer with and would leave the conversation knowing more than you had before. He was a bonus to our bank account and to our lives. The second roommate, while also a nice guy, did not connect with us the same way as the first roommate and he also struggled a bit on the tidiness front. (In short, Mr. Debt Albatross was not pleased with the way he left the kitchen almost every single night. It created an awkward, tense environment that was not worth the rental income). We were a bit spoiled with our first experience and now a bit jaded after our second.

We took the Spring off from roommates and now have an opportunity to host roommates again for the summer.  The expected rental income would be around $1875 total.  Not a fortune but certainly helpful to our debt payoff goals.

I’m painting a rosy picture of the first roommate situation and it wasn’t all rosy. Roommates are roommates.  You can’t eliminate the inconveniences of having a stranger in your house, the lack of privacy, the hopefully occasional times where they don’t treat your stuff exactly as you treat your stuff because you own it, the fact that they never seem to buy shared goods such as toilet paper, dryer sheets, or paper towels, or the house guests they invite over – hopefully planned guests but the chance of unplanned overnight guests as well.

Remembering It’s Paid Work

Hosting roommates (and I’m using the word hosting instead of having on purpose) takes work.  Home owners need to provide them with a nice place to live in exchange for a check each month. It’s a two way street. Some of the up-front work includes setting up the room and bathroom with furniture, bedding, sheets, towels, soap, shower curtain, a hamper, etc.  The long-term maintenance includes some basic cleaning, provision of the shared goods as mentioned above, addressing any issues that come up, and the continuous work to make living in the home a good place for them. That last item includes pleasant conversation in shared spaces, respect of their space and belongings, and the creation of a neutral or at best pleasant living environment.

Anytime we got frustrated with Roommate 2, I had to remind myself that he is paying us. We’ve all experienced landlords that think it’s a privilege to live in their home and seem to forget the fact that the renters are paying their mortgage. You’ll hear statements like “we just redid the floors, aren’t you lucky?” or the landlord will deduct money from the security deposit because they have different definitions of normal wear and tear than the law. (I had a landlord in college take hundreds of dollars from our security deposit for couch cleaning even though we kept the couches spotless and barely sat on them in the two and a half months we were there.  I had another landlord send us an angry letter that included a rant about not vacuuming the curtains before we left. Dusty curtains are careless but not unforgivable).

In my opinion, Renters aren’t going to treat a home the same way that an owner would – and that’s just the way it is.  Renters don’t have any long term skin in the game. It’s something that landlords needs to accept and consider in their pricing.

Now there is a certain level of acceptableness that is expected from renters. Roommate 2 who would explode food in our oven and microwave without cleaning it up, left the gas burner in the grill on all night then told us the next day we needed to buy a new one, spilled and left trail mix in the couch cushions of our new couch, left food in the sink instead of rinsing it down the garbage disposal every night, among other transgressions – that crossed the line.  The occasional transgression though should be expected and factored into the pricing.

 Figuring Out Pricing and Making It Worth It

We priced on the low side for Roommate 1 for a few reasons. First, we knew what the competition was pricing and we wanted to beat it. Second, we didn’t know any better.  Since then, we upped the rent $15 per month for Roommate 2 and $70 per month more than that for this summer’s roommates. We told ourselves that the reason we were upping the price for Roommate 2 was cable but we’ve realized recently it’s much more than just cable.  We had to pick a price that accounted for the financial and emotional costs of having a roommate (the toilet paper, utilities, the inconvenience, etc).  All in all, we are expecting to make around $20/day on the summer roommate(s) less any expenses.

When I first did the math and saw the extra income came out to around $20/day I was kind of disappointed.  I used to spend that amount each day on coffee and lunch at work. It seems so small! I bring my coffee and lunch to work now but the math is a simple reminder of how important it is to keep doing so. If we’re going to go through the inconvenience of a roommate, we need to make it worth it by spending less.

We ultimately decided to go for it and will be securing the summer roommate(s) later today.  I can only hope we have a situation closer to Roommate 1 but beggars can’t be choosers!


Taxes, Hooray!

Mr Debt Albatross and I need to pay off over $8 grand of debt each month in order to meet our payoff goal. We’re on track to meet this month’s goal due to a hefty tax refund. Since our lives became more complicated in the past year (bought a home, started grad school, etc.), it took us three days to finish filing our taxes. Thank you, Google.  The following is what we learned in the process:

  • When you own a home with someone as Joint Tenants, you can each deduct the portion of the mortgage interest you paid.  Alternatively, you can have one person deduct all of the mortgage interest.  It may make more sense to have the person in the highest tax bracket deduct all of the mortgage interest.
  • In addition to mortgage interest, you can deduct private mortgage insurance (PMI) payments if you have them, loan origination points, and property taxes.  The PMI deduction phases out after you reach $100 grand in income. It also doesn’t matter if you paid the points or the seller.
  • You can compare the tax form you receive from your lender with the HUD form you receive at closing to ensure you’re deducting the maximum amount possible.  We found some discrepancies and were able to deduct more by using the amount on the HUD form.
  • If you don’t take the standard deduction, you can itemize.  First time itemizers like us will wish that they had categorized their expenses throughout the year. It was tedious searching through emails, bank accounts, and Mint to find tuition payments and donation receipts. Although I didn’t mind hunting for more money.
  • Education credits, tuition and student loan interest deductions phase out after $60 grand in income.
  • If your employer reimbursed you for part or all of your tuition, it can be complicated to figure out what to report. I googled this topic significantly. You need to determine if the reimbursed amount was included in your W2, if it was over the $5250 you can receive tax free, or if it was a working condition fringe benefit. Additionally, you can only deduct the dollars you actually paid, not any dollars reimbursed by your employer.
  • If filing taxes online, search for coupon codes. We received 20% off due to a promotion we found on Retailmenot. If you are under a certain income limit and filing a basic return, you can likely file for free through some of the major tax sites.

Our federal refund is currently pending. It took less than a week from filing to receive the refund. We’re still waiting to hear on the state refund. I’ve already scheduled a credit card payment for Monday. Can’t wait to see that balance go down!