Can you spot these 6 signs of financial abuse?

A woman sits at one end of a sofa with her hands covering her face, while a man sits with his arms crossed at the other end.

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There is help available.

Key points

  • Domestic violence is very common and, unfortunately, financial abuse can be a big part of it.
  • If your partner refuses to discuss financial matters with you, jeopardizes your job, or withholds money from you altogether, these are major red flags indicating an abusive situation.
  • If you are experiencing financial abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can be accessed online or by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Sometimes the people who are supposed to love us can hurt us instead. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), more than 10 million American adults are victims of domestic violence each year. The National Domestic Violence Hotline notes that all forms of abuse are ultimately about power and control, and financial abuse can be one of the most insidious ways to control a partner. The NCADV also notes that 94% to 99% of victims of domestic violence have also experienced economic abuse. And unfortunately, this type of abuse can be one of the reasons people get trapped in domestic violence situations. Read on to find warning signs that you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse.

1. Refuse to discuss finances

If your partner is secretive about money matters or hiding vital financial information from you, that’s a major problem. This can sometimes make the abuser seem like the main manager of the household’s finances, which is not a bad thing in itself. If one person doesn’t care about managing the bills and making sure everything gets paid, it can save the other person time and hassle. The problem arises when that partner does not allow the other to access bank account information, credit card accounts, or utilities. If you can’t see what’s going on with your money, you don’t know how it’s being spent or how much you have. Some financial experts recommend that each partner maintain a separate bank account to ensure they have some control over some of their money – this is a really good idea.

2. Set a spending limit

While it’s a great idea for couples to be on the same page about money and how much to spend on different things, it’s a red flag if either partner says another that he can only spend a certain amount and requires receipts to account for any money spent.

3. Prevent employment

Another way for one partner to control another’s finances is to negatively impact their work situation. If your partner interrupts your work (through visits or phone calls) in an effort to prevent you from keeping that job, or does not allow you to work at all (for example by preventing you from applying or attending in interviews, or even demanding you quit your job), this is a major sign of financial abuse.

4. Withholding Money

This is perhaps the simplest way to economically abuse another person. Your partner might insist on taking your paycheck and depositing it into an account you don’t have access to, or might refuse to give you money for necessities like food or clothing (for yourself or even for your children). This behavior is designed to keep you trapped in an abusive situation, and it works, because without money you might have very few options for leaving an abusive relationship. Withholding money can also look like a partner keeping all assets in their own name, like a mortgage or credit card account, leaving you with no financial resources of your own.

5. Hide Assets

Sometimes an abusive partner can hide financial assets from you completely. They could open bank accounts or credit cards and spend money you know nothing about for whatever they want, all without your knowledge or consent.

6. Economic exploitation

Another major red flag for financial abuse is when one partner exploits the other’s credit by forcing them to open credit cards and spend their own money with no say in where. he will. This can lead to damage to credit score as well as depletion of financial resources that the abused partner could use to escape the relationship. And if your credit is compromised by a relationship, it’s also much harder to leave. If you’re trying to rent an apartment and you’re turned down because of black marks on your credit caused by your partner, you could be blocked.

What can you do?

If you or someone you know is a victim of economic abuse, it can be very difficult to free yourself, and if you are without financial resources, it is even more difficult. For help, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has a live chat feature on its website, and you can also call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or email SMS START to 88788.

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