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Top Five "First Apartment" Mistakes

Living off campus can be fun, rewarding, and a natural step toward independence. However, be wary of the top five mistakes that first-time renters often make.

Mistake #1: Paying Too Much

This is the most common beginner's mistake. It is easy to forget that rent is only part of expenses you'll have to deal with living on your own -- there's also gas and electric, cable and phone, not to mention commuting to work, food and dry cleaning. You may even want to have some money left over for hanging out with your friends at the corner dining establishment. If more than a third of your salary goes to rent, you'll live to regret it.

Mistake #2: Bad Location, Bad Location, Bad Location

No matter how good the apartment is, a bad location can ruin it. Your friends may come over once to see your great living room with fireplace, but if they have to travel an hour you'll never get them to visit again. A long commute to work will soon get to you, too, and your funky, up-and-coming area, touted by the real estate agent, may freak you out after dark.

Mistake #3: Picking the Wrong Roommates

You are a neat-freak and your roommate is a slob. You need to get to work at 6 a.m. and your roommates parties late at night. Opposites may attract but they will not make for the best roommate situations. Know what you are getting into.

Mistake #4: Spending Too Much on Furnishings

Splurging on a 42-inch flat-screen TV might mean that you'll be spending all your free time in front of it because you can't afford to go out. Before you charge your dream sofa, bed, etc. on your credit card, think how you'd feel still paying them off long after you have moved to your next apartment.

Mistake #5: Not Reading the Lease

Judge Judy will not be kind to you when you're trying to get back your precious security deposit and you have to confess that you didn't read the lease. Study the wording carefully and if you don't understand something find out what it means before signing on the dotted line. Remember: a lease is a legal binding contract and not something that can easily be changed or canceled.

And though there's certainly more exciting reading out there, understanding the jargon of a lease is critical.