How to Spot a Financially Abusive Relationship Before It's Too Late

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It may not seem obvious at first.

He doesn’t like your job. Or, he won’t stop bugging you at work. (You write it off as him being sweet and simply missing you.)

Then, he’ll offer to help manage your finances. He’ll say, “I’m better with money. Let’s put our savings in my account. Let me take care of the bills.”

Eventually, it hits you. You have ZERO financial control, and you can’t leave.

These are the first signs of financial or economic abuse, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

"Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in general, include tactics to limit the partner's access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances."

Here are a few more signs:

  • Restricted access to your credit card

  • Drains assets once you attempt to leave

  • You have no money of your own

  • Your partner takes out credit cards or loans in your name and maxes them out

  • Having income separate from his is no longer an option

You get caught in a catch-22: Endure an abusive relationship, or face poverty and become homeless. 

Because you have a poor work and credit history or legal issues, you face difficulty searching for future employment, looking for an apartment, and ultimately, gaining your independence. Most end up right where they started—back with their abusers.

“Economic self-sufficiency is frequently the difference between violence and safety for many victims,” says the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

 

Here are a few tips to help you get on your feet:

  1. Learn more about financial abuse, and whether the signs (such as in the checklist above) apply to you.
  2. If you believe you’re a victim, begin organizing important personal and financial documents, including bank statements, marriage and birth certificates, and others. Make sure you find safe storage for the information in a secret location.
  1. Find ways to earn extra money and save up in any way you can.
  2. Find a free copy of your credit report at Annual Credit Report. Dispute or report any fraudulent charges.
  3. Figure out your expenses, such as transportation, housing, food, and others, by creating a budget.
  4. Switch up your PIN codes and passwords to secure your access your financial information and track your activity.
  5. Check out great resources like The National Domestic Violence Hotline, URI NYC, and Safe Horizon.


There’s also a moving company, called Meathead Movers, that has paired with non-profit Good Shepherd to help victims leave an abusive partner for free.

When you’re caught up in this situation, it’s normal to feel embarrassed or isolated. If you are a victim of financial abuse, make sure financial planning is a part of your exit strategy. However, if you see the signs before it's too late, walk away.

Ginger is the founder and owner of Girls Just Wanna Have Funds, a personal finance blog for women designed to raise the level of education and awareness around money management.