Should You Pay Equal Rent When Your Partner Earns More?

Our editor-in-chief 'makes cents' of splitting rent with a partner

Illustration depicting splitting expenses with a partner

The Balance/Alice Morgan

Dear Kristin,

My boyfriend and I are considering moving in together this year. He makes significantly more money than me (three times as much). Should we try to find an apartment I can afford splitting 50/50, but that isn’t as nice? Or should we find a better apartment and see if he’s willing to pay based on his income level? As individuals, we almost pay the same amount in rent, but my monthly rental amount is already over budget because I wanted to live in a more comfortable, safer neighborhood as a woman. He wants to combine finances a couple of months before we move in together, but I feel like I hardly have anything to contribute. What should I do?



Dear Jackie,

First, congratulations on moving in with your partner! This is a new, more serious phase of your relationship, and while having these money conversations with a loved one can be stressful, it’s also a new exciting chapter for you both; try to enjoy it as much as possible.

You’ve asked two questions here, so I’ll tackle combining finances first. You don’t say anything about what you envision as “combining finances,” and it means different things to different couples. If you mean combining everything from bank accounts to credit cards, I’d advise against it until you are married. This is because your money could be at your boyfriend’s mercy if the relationship goes south—you wouldn’t have any sort of legal protection if, say, he closed your joint bank account without letting you know.

You can both still pay for household expenses even if you keep your finances separate. Create a household budget to cover rent, utilities, groceries, and more. How you pay for these bills comes down to you. Some couples choose to divide the utilities and take them on separately. For example, maybe you decide to pay for the internet, while your boyfriend pays the electric bill. Who gets what depends on you both, and how much you might anticipate spending each month on these expenses. Alternatively, you could tally up the total cost of all the expenses and contribute half or a proportionate amount based on your income.

Now, should you split the rent 50/50? Honestly, that depends on you, your expectations for the relationship going forward, and your personal and collective financial goals. Personally, I think that if one person earns a considerable amount more than the other, they should pay a proportionately larger amount when it comes to rent and other expenses. If you would prefer to contribute half and feel financially comfortable doing so, that’s definitely an option, too.

You don’t mention how much more (or less) your current rent is compared to the rent of the places where you’re looking to move, but it sounds like you might be financially stretching yourself, while your boyfriend is getting a financial break. And so, while that 50/50 arrangement might be “equal,” it doesn’t necessarily make it “fair.” The recommended amount of money you should pay per month on rent is 30% of your income, and that differs greatly for you and your boyfriend. For example, if you bring home $2,000 per month, 30% equals $600; if your boyfriend brings home $6,000 per month, 30% equals $1,800. You may want to consider finding an apartment that fits that type of budget for you both.

If you are both in this for the long haul, you are going to want your relationship as financially stable as possible. That means neither one of you should stretch your budgets beyond where you’re comfortable, nor should you financially struggle when you move in together.

The first step here is to have an open, honest, and vulnerable conversation with your boyfriend. Ask him what he expects from you financially, what his money goals are for the future, and if he has any constraints like debt that might prevent him from contributing as much as he’d like. Don’t be afraid to open up as well—be upfront about your insecurities with money, and also what you hope to achieve financially going forward. If you approach these conversations in a loving way, I think you might be surprised by how easy it is to get on the same page and create financial agreements that work for the both of you.  

Good luck!


If you have questions about money, Kristin is here to help. Submit an anonymous question and she may answer it in a future column.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “I Have a Joint Checking Account. The Other Person Closed the Account Without Telling Me. Is That Allowed?

  2. DocPlayer. “Who Can Afford To Live in a Home?: A look at data from the 2006 American Community Survey by Mary Schwartz and Ellen Wilson US Census Bureau.”

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