Financial abuse isn't always obvious, but it's a form of domestic abuse and is often the first sign of dating violence.

How to Recognize Financial Abuse

By Emily Elmore | Feb 20, 2020

Like other forms of domestic abuse, financial abuse isn’t always obvious. It can be hard to talk about or to acknowledge that it’s happening. Shame, surprise, or denial prevent many from seeking resources from friends or family. Nav.igator, if this is you (or someone you know) you are not alone, and it’s going to be ok.  

Step one: recognize financial abuse is happening.

Step two: look at that beautiful face in the mirror and tell yourself that it isn’t your fault.

Step three: understand what financial abuse is and make it stop.

What exactly is financial abuse?

Just like other forms of abuse, it’s a tool of power and manipulation, used by one party against another to force a behavior. Often, it’s the first sign of dating violence and it can seriously impact your mental, emotional, or physical health in addition to your finances. 

The abuser controls their victim’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain financial resources. Some victims may be prevented from working, while others are forced to relinquish their earnings into an account they don’t control. Often they’re denied the ability to account for -or distribute- household dollars. Some abusers use gaslighting, a form of mental abuse, while others may use intimidation or force.

Although the forms of financial abuse vary from couple to couple, in all cases it’s a primary means of keeping the victim trapped in the relationship. The abused feels that they are unable to provide financially for themselves, and stay with (or return to) an abusive partner. Without access to financial assets like credit cards or savings accounts it becomes nearly impossible to find housing or purchase necessities. If the abuser managed all of the expenses and prevented the abused from working, the victim will have poor credit history and intermittent work history, both of which are necessary to successfully escape the relationship.

What does financial abuse look like?

Exploitation & Control

-Controlling access to money you earned or saved

-Using your assets without your permission

-Demanding that they manage and access your finances

-Threatening to lie to officials (fraud, misuse of funds, etc)

-Restricting your ability to budget or spend

-Hiding funds in accounts you can’t access

-Refusing to collaborate on finances

-Making large financial decisions without your input

-Limiting your access or control of accounts

-Forcing you to sign financial documents you don’t understand

-Making threats to cut you off financially

-Dragging out legal proceedings to cripple you financially (think divorce or child custody)

 Interfereing with your J.O.B.

-Pressuring you to quit or preventing you from getting a job when you want one

-Dictating where you can or can’t work (or who you can and can’t work with)

-Undervaluing your contribution to the household (or minimizing the work you do)

-Harassing you at work, or harassing your coworkers and/or boss

-Forcing you to work specific hours

-Dictating how you get paid (or the account it’s deposited into)

The above list is not all-inclusive. If you or someone you know suspects that their partner is financially abusive, get outside help. A friend, counselor, or religious leader can offer support.

What steps can you take if you suspect you’re in a financially abusive relationship?

If you can safely do so, transfer your financial assets like paychecks, inheritance, retirement, checking, or savings into separate accounts that are inaccessible to the abuser. Determine where the remaining household assets are located and if you have access to them. Then identify how much debt you have and make copies of EVERYTHING: bank statements, social security numbers, birth and marriage certificates, any documentation of joint assets like a mortgage or a car.

If you’re liable for debts, send a copy of any court orders or liens to the credit company explaining the situation. If your credit has been ruined, that same letter can be sent to credit reporting agencies; often they’ll help qualify you for a credit card. You’ll have to rehab your credit score and settle for high-interest rates until it improves, but you CAN access money. DO NOT accept abuse. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our blog or contact us. We can support your journey to financial health.  

If you believe you are in danger or if you fear retribution, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. They can provide action plans and offer emotional support.

Related Reads:

Ask the Money Coach: My Partner isn’t Including Me in Financial Decisions

How to Get on the Same Financial Page as Your Partner

How to Talk about Money in a Relationship

How to Recognize Financial Abuse

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