Michael Carter and his girlfriend of five years broke up more than a year ago, but reminders of their relationship pop up at awkward times. Last week when he pulled up his Netflix to watch something on a date, his ex’s profile avatar popped up.
“It had her name on it and I was like, hmmm, I should probably get rid of that,” said Carter. Even though her profile still exists on his account, his ex hasn’t been using it. “She has a very short-term memory so it’s not like she can remember it.” The 32-year-old producer of the Somebody Date Us podcast also shared a Spotify account with his ex when they were a couple. He was the primary account holder for both Netflix and Spotify.
Sharing your Netflix, or any kind of streaming subscription, with your significant other is kind of a big deal. It symbolizes trust and a certain level of commitment, especially if you decide to split the cost. Sure, you’re probably only saving $5 to $10 a month for each account, which isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. But over a year, that adds up to $60 to $120 for every shared service. Plus you’re giving this person access to a couple of really important things.
First, there’s your password information. Maybe you have unique passwords for everything and your Netflix account is no different. Or maybe you’re like most people who don’t listen to the advice of every security expert and all your passwords are pretty similar. You have to be on pretty good terms with someone to give them access to what may be your Master Password. This means that if things don’t work out—and chances are, your relationship with Netflix will outlast this romantic connection—the smart thing would be to reset all related passwords after you break up.
The money talk
You’ll also be letting them into your Inner Sanctum of finances. Before you start sharing, you should probably know what they can and can’t afford. This means having The Talk… about whether you’re serious about each other, and about splitting a bill.
You need to figure out whose credit card this goes on, and who is the main account holder. Jessica Moorhouse, an accredited financial counsellor and a millennial money expert, says the decision to share a streaming account with your significant other isn’t something to take lightly.
“When you’re considering a subscription together, who is going to be paying? Whose credit card is it on? Because then the onus is on you. If you can’t afford it, you might be getting into credit card debt because of that person,” she said. “That is a risk you’re taking.”
Sharing often means upgrading from the most basic service; the primary account holder should be able to afford paying for all of it, regardless of whether the other person chips in. If you’re both using the service, it makes sense for you to split the cost, if you’re serious about each other, says Moorhouse.
Even though their lives were financially intertwined—they lived together for years—Carter decided not to ask his partner to contribute to his streaming services. He figured it wasn’t worth the hassle.
It’s definitely easier not to divy up the bill. And deciding not to is a valid option, according to Moorhouse. “If you’re at different income levels and you’re not sure you have the trust for that financial obligation with someone, then it might be easier not to share that account. There are other ways to save money, like cut back on one lunch per month and you have saved what you would save by sharing your Netflix,” she said.
How soon is too soon?
Knowing when and if, to take the next step is a highly personal decision. Some people share their Netflix account within weeks of dating, while others wait much longer. Moorhouse suggests waiting at least six months—that’s enough time to figure out if it’s a casual hookup or something more serious.
Carter gives relationships a three-month “trial probation period.” After that, he figures six months is a good amount of time before sharing streaming services, and having a solid talk before mixing financial obligations.
According to Moorhouse, a solid talk should include an agreement about when the primary account holder gets paid. This is a kind of test and tells you a lot about your potential financial compatibility. If your partner doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, it’s a red flag.
“If they broke the trust on the agreement, then it’s time to kick them out. Change the password and boot them off the system,” she said. “Don’t let them take advantage of you.”
A late payment every once in a while is probably not a big deal. But Moorhouse says if there’s a pattern of late or non-existent payments, they should get a warning. If it happens all the time, then give your partner about a month’s advance notice, then cut them off.
Another potential pitfall to avoid is sharing Lyft or Uber Eats, services without a set monthly amount. These types of accounts can be charged with a bunch of things that can add up and it can be challenging to figure out who owes what.
“That’s where things can get messy. I’m married and my husband and I don’t have the same Uber Eats account,” she said. “We just take turns. Sometimes I’ll treat him; sometimes he treats me.”
After a breakup
If things don’t work out, don’t make the same mistake that Carter did and leave loose ends. Change your password ASAP and cut your losses.
“You might have to accept that you won’t get paid for that month. If they’re a decent person, they will. But you may be on the hook for it,” said Moorhouse. If it’s a relatively small bill, like Netflix or music streaming, it probably won’t hurt that much—after all, it’s not like you were splitting cable.
Carter says he’s going to delete his ex’s Netflix account right away. And even though he probably should have done it sooner, the overall experience of sharing was fine. He’s open to sharing his Netflix and Spotify again if the right person comes along in the future. “There are worse things to figure out when it comes to sharing your life with someone. Like a mortgage, or kids, or a pet,” he said.
Follow Anne Gaviola on Twitter.