Living and Learning: A Student Housing Series

Housing

Finance and Your New Apartment

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If you’ve been following our series on apartment living, you might have found your dream digs and are now wondering how to pay for it! The Imagine America Foundation is here with some handy recommendations for handling a budget and staying on top of your total housing costs. It can be very easy to get behind with your financial responsibilities—and very hard to catch back up again. Let’s take a look at some steps you can take to ensure you can manage the costs of your new independent living situation while you’re pursuing your career training program.

Lease basics

Let’s start with how leases work: A lease is a signed contract between the owner of a dwelling and a tenant of that dwelling. For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume the space you intend to rent is in an apartment complex of some kind—but the basics can apply to any number of living arrangements, including the renting of a room in someone’s house, the renting of a single-family home or duplex, or another agreement between an owner and a temporary occupant of their space. A lease outlines what is required of both parties, for how much cost, and for how long. Lease agreements can be many pages long with a lot of fine print or legalese, but it’s worth your while to read: after you’ve signed, you’re legally bound to adhere to anything it stipulates for as long as it’s in effect.

At its most basic, a lease includes what monthly rent and other fees are due and when, at what point any late fees are assessed if you don’t pay on time, what utilities are included, and what amenities or other extras are included (either as part of your monthly rent or on a fee-for-service basis). It will also outline any rights and responsibilities you have as a tenant: it might say that you are allowed use of the complex’s fitness center or that all residents are responsible for the disposal of their own trash and recycling. Your lease agreement will also stipulate how long it’s in effect for and what the process is (and what fees you will incur) for breaking the lease earlier than its expiration date.

The most important things to remember when signing a lease are to make sure you understand exactly what your rights and responsibilities are as the lessee, and that you are prepared to be financially responsible for all rents and fees associated with the contract. It can be tedious, but ultimately helps ensure that you won’t get stuck paying for something you didn’t even know was required!

Financial responsibilities

Next let’s think of what you’re responsible for paying; these are your financial responsibilities. Leasing an apartment is a major financial decision! Even though you’re not purchasing your home, you’ll be making a long-term commitment. And since housing is the biggest line item in the budget for the vast majority of people, you want to make sure you’re well prepared when it comes time to sign the lease and move in. What are some of the most common expenses to expect from your new apartment community?

Rent

The most obvious expense when getting a new apartment will be the cost you pay each term to live there. In nearly all cases (though there can be some exceptions), you will pay rent on a monthly basis. Rent can be anywhere from a couple hundred dollars per month to thousands of dollars per month, and that will primarily be determined by your geographic location and the standard of living you want to have.

Rent rates are agreed upon at the time of lease and may be renegotiated at the time of lease renewal. Once you’ve signed a lease, the rate listed there is what you will pay each month for the duration of the contract. Monthly rent is usually due the first day of the month, though some apartment complexes offer a short grace period before any late fees are charged. Confirm your apartment complex’s own policy regarding due dates and fees.

Deposit

To help ensure that their properties stay well-maintained while tenants are living in them, apartment complexes typically require a security deposit. The deposit can be a set fee or a full month’s rent and is usually due either at the time you sign the lease or just to hold the apartment for you ahead of any other applicants. Some security deposits are just used by the apartment complex to cover the costs of turning over an apartment unit between tenants, but often the deposit is refundable when your lease ends. To get your deposit back (partially or in full), you must have taken care of the space so that no major repairs, cleaning, or other issues need to be taken care of before renting the apartment to someone else.

Renter’s Insurance

Many apartment complexes require their residents to show proof of renter’s insurance. This can also vary based on state or local mandates. Renter’s insurance protects your own possessions and personal property, as well as your liability. The owners of the complex should have their own insurance policy to cover the structures or dwellings, but in case of fire, vandalism, or other damage you are responsible for your own stuff.

Renter’s insurance policies are typically underwritten for one year, with premiums paid either annually or monthly. Because they don’t cover the dwelling itself, they are much cheaper than a standard homeowner’s insurance policy.

Other Fees

There are a number of other fees you might see when renting an apartment. You may be required to pay a small fee with your application in order to be considered as a potential resident. Many apartment complexes charge additional fees for the use of amenities outside the apartment unit itself. These can include reserved parking spaces; covered parking; use of fitness, leisure, or other common areas; and use of laundry facilities (either renting equipment in your individual unit or sharing of services with other tenants). It is also common for some or all utility fees, like those for water, trash, and sewer, to be assessed through the apartment complex rather than directly by the utility provider. Always make sure to confirm what services are included in the cost of your rent and which items are billed separately.

Other budget items

Of course, there’s more to budget for than just rent and utilities. Having space for your car, insuring your personal belongings, and setting up technology are all important too. Budgeting for independent living isn’t as straight forward as just considering your rent, but hopefully these categories will help you round out your budget!

Internet

These days, internet is likely to be the very first thing you’ll want to set up in your new place! In addition to the entertainment value it can provide, internet service can be essential to have while you’re going to school. Whether you opt for cable, satellite, fiber, or another option, make sure you have contacted your service provider of choice ahead of time to schedule installation.

Rates can vary by region and by type and speed of service, but average about $90 per month. Regardless, you can expect to pay at least $20 each month before taxes, fees, and equipment rental. If you have wireless service, make sure you choose a strong password for your network. Inadvertently sharing your bandwidth with neighbors can slow down your own service.

Cable

Right behind internet service (or even together with internet service) is television. While the standard that people often gravitate toward is still conventional cable television service, many options are available for getting TV in your new home. Satellite, antenna, and a whole host of streaming services are all popular alternatives to cable service. Take some time to review the options available in your area. Apartment complexes can usually provide a list of providers who are known to be available specifically in their units.

Remember that while an antenna is a one-time cost, streaming services are typically paid on a month-to-month basis. Cable and satellite contracts are more likely to have monthly fees but with a year-long contract—often with fees for cancelling early. Costs can range anywhere from $5 per month for some streaming services to over $100 per month for some cable packages.

Parking

The cost of parking can be easily forgotten! But if you’ve got a car, it needs a space to stay too. Your new apartment complex may include parking—either in an open lot, a covered garage, or an assigned space—as part of your rent or for an additional fee.

Depending on the location of your new place, you may also be able to consider garage parking, metered parking, or other reserved parking. Keep in mind that having an established place to park can help provide protection for your car and also save you time getting to and from your vehicle.

Renter’s insurance

Many apartment complexes require proof of renter’s insurance in order to sign a lease. But it’s a good idea to have even if they don’t! Renter’s insurance protects your own possessions and personal property, as well as your liability.

Renter’s insurance policies are typically underwritten for one year, with premiums paid either annually or monthly. The average annual cost for a renter’s insurance policy is about $150, or about $12.50 each month.

Groceries, entertainment, and other miscellany

You’ll also probably want to occasionally buy groceries or go to a movie! This last category can vary more than any other and will depend on so many factors, everything from how often you go out to eat or donate to charitable causes to your tendency to buy brand names over generic items. Make sure your own budget is comprehensive of all spending to give you the best chances of sticking to it month to month.

Make a plan

It can feel like a lot to consider but just take it one step at a time! When it comes to committing your money for the long-term, taking your time is a good idea. The best thing you can do for your financial future is to be honest about what you can (and cannot) afford, make a spending plan (a friendlier way to say “budget”), and check in with your income and expenses on a regular basis to ensure you don’t miss payments or overdraw your accounts. The Imagine America Foundation hopes resources like this one will help you make the decisions that are right for you when it comes to finding an apartment, setting up your utilities, and forging ahead into adulthood while you continue your education.

In future editions of Career College Central, we will explore utility accounts, living with roommates, and navigating the logistics of moving in. And be sure to stay tuned to our website, where we will share even more information and helpful tips through our blog.

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