Woman holding a $1 bill

Financial abuse is one of the most common, yet forgotten, forms of abuse. According to a Center for Financial Security study, 99% of domestic abuse victims experience some form of economical abuse. Financial abuse can take many forms; some common forms are stealing or withholding money. It is important to recognize the signs of financial abuse in a relationship and know how to combat it safely. 


How to protect your finances when leaving an abusive relationship

Economic exploitation is a way to control and take power over the relationship. It can trap victims and create negative long-term effects. That is why it is important to protect your finances, especially if you are planning to leave the relationship. Many victims of financial abuse are often left with no money, no home, and severe debt. To avoid this, here are some ways you may be able to prepare and protect your finances when leaving an abusive relationship. Remember that the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when you are planning and trying to leave it. Places like Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support provide free and confidential safety planning.


Save cash

There are many ways to gather cash without your abuser knowing. One way to take cash out is through grocery stores, if your abuser does not check your receipts. When buying groceries with a debit card, ask for an extra $20 in cashback. Oftentimes only the total grocery bill appears on a bank statement. However, it is good to double-check your bank statement, because some places do list the cashback as a separate line. If this is the case, and your abuser checks bank statements regularly, try to buy gift cards at the grocery store. It is better to get cash, but at least with gift cards, you will have access to money and be able to spend it without a paper trail. If you do not have access to any money, try to find a cash-only job if that is a safe option for you. This could be babysitting, dog sitting, or a job that allows you to make cash tips. Lastly, if you are not in control of your finances, and are prohibited from getting a job, try to sell your used personal belongings. You could do this through thrift stores or pawn shows. If you have access to the internet, there are many online platforms you could also use. Sell things that your spouse will not notice are gone. Although you will eventually need a bank account once you live on your own, gathering cash in the time leading up to your move will make the transition much easier. 


Monitor credit

Many people don’t know or don’t understand their credit score. If you haven’t been in control of your finances, your credit score could be severely low. This can greatly impact your ability to find new housing, should you need to relocate after leaving your relationship. Landlords tend to look at the credit scores before accepting applications, and getting a loan for a house requires certain credit score ranges. Check your score to see if your abuser has opened any lines of credit under your name. If so, you may be able to dispute the error, or sue for identity theft when it is safe. If you have debt on a joint account, you can improve your credit by paying off any outstanding debt. If you are unable to pay off any debt, then call the credit card company and ask for your name to be removed. Although this will not help you with any existing debt, it will protect you from any future debt acquired on the account. However, remember to consider any safety risks related to this. 


Open a solo account

Set up a personal checking and savings account. If you already have a personal account, create a new one. Make sure this account is only under your name, and that the statements are sent to a trusted mailing or email address. You want to ensure that your abuser does not have access to any of this information. Start putting any money you have into this account, and start saving. If you have a job that pays you through direct deposit, contact your HR department to transfer a portion of your salary to this account if your abuser does not know how much you get paid.. You do not want to transfer too much of your salary, as it may raise suspicion. If you decide to leave you can then transfer your whole salary to your new account later.


Gather important documents

If possible, make copies of any personal and financial documents. This could include your birth certificate, social security card, bank statements, and any other documents that have value. It does not have to be a professional copy, it could easily just be a quick picture on your phone. After gathering copies of your documents, store them somewhere safe. This could be with a trusted person or a cloud-based storage solution that only you have access to. 


Change your passwords

This should be done the day you plan to leave, as your abuser could find out what you’re doing before you have the chance to make it somewhere safe. You want to make sure that your abuser does not have access to any of your personal or financial information. Whether it is an email account, social media account, or bank account, change every single one of your passwords. You want your password to be secure; so do not choose a password with personal meaning, or something that your abuser could potentially guess. If this might pose a safety risk, you can consider creating new email and social media accounts that your abuser doesn’t know about. 


Seek help

Leaving is only one step on this new path. After leaving an abusive relationship, there are precautions you can take to minimize the risk of danger. To help with the transition, seek out help from trusted people in your life or use resources available to you. Abuse is a traumatic experience; know that you are not alone. This article is geared toward helping with your financial situation, but It is important to remember to take the time to heal and rebuild yourself.