Rebuilding financial security and confidence after domestic abuse can be extremely challenging. More and more online and nationwide in-person programs have started teaching survivors the financial skills necessary to recover from abuse. However, as the adage goes, knowledge is power! Let’s talk about money and begin your financial education journey today.
What does financial abuse look like?
Financial abuse is a red flag that can escalate to other types of violence, such as physical abuse, between partners.
The abuser will attempt to and perhaps succeed in controlling and/or stealing their partner’s finances and information. They can also stalk them at their workplace or prevent them from having a job. Victims of domestic violence can be particularly vulnerable after leaving their abuser. Escaping is a financial burden in and of itself; it may mean single parenthood or difficulties finding a stable home and job. Victims may lack the financial knowledge to (re)gain control over their economic situation.
According to Judy Postmus, director of the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work, when explaining why it can be challenging to leave abusers, survivors complain about their lack of access to financial resources and knowledge of money management. Undoubtedly, survivors of domestic violence have unique financial needs. For example, they may require information on how to separate joint accounts, improve credit scores that their abuser damaged, budget as a single parent, and draft financial safety plans.
Financial empowerment refers to, among other aspects, employment, budgeting, housing, debt, and assets, but here, when talking about financial empowerment, we’ll focus on three things – knowledge, personal savings, and separate credit – as well as how victims and survivors can use these to their benefit.
Talk About Money Knowledge
The first step for both victims trying to escape their abuser and survivors of domestic violence is to build strong financial and money management knowledge and confidence. Knowledge is power! Fortunately, there is a growing list of financial literacy resources available online tailored to victims and survivors. Here are some you may find helpful:
- National Coalition against domestic violence: https://ncadv.org/financial-education
- National Endowment for Financial Education: www.nefe.org (Click on Multimedia Access and then on the financial education clearinghouse at the top of the page.)
- Allstate Foundation: https://allstatefoundation.org/what-we-do/end-domestic-violence/
- Women’s Institute for Financial Education: www.wife.org.
- The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO): www.microenterpriseworks.org.
- Your Money Matters: Tax Information for Survivors of Domestic Abuse: www.irs.gov (look for publication #3865)
- Social Security Administration’s Website for Women: www.ssa.gov/women/
- National Association of Commissions for Women: https://www.nacw.org/womens-finances.html
- Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement: www.wiserwomen.org/resources/fact-sheets/
- Heinz Family Philanthropies and Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER): www.womensretirement.org
- WomensLaw.org’s National Network To End Domestic Violence program: https://www.womenslaw.org/
The next steps include listing out all your IDs, debit and credit cards, birth certificates, personal accounts, assets, and debts, which may require a lot of research and digging if your abuser has hidden these documents and information from you. Make a note of what financial resources and documentation you have and don’t have. Ask yourself: Is the abuser keeping the documents and financial resources you’re lacking? Is there a way you can get them back, cancelled, or re-issued? If you’ve never held these documents and financial instruments, what’s stopping your access? Is this something you can get around or get help with?
Keeping Your Personal Info Safe
Remember to keep all your IDs and your Social Security number, and any other personal information safe. Avoid sharing any personal details and passwords with others unless required. It may be a good idea not to store passwords on your computer or phone. These steps will ensure your identity is protected and that the abuser cannot steal it.
As a safeguard, be wary of any requests for your personal information and passwords over text or e-mail, especially soon after you leave your abuser, even if they appear to be coming from your bank or any legal authorities.
If possible, always keep some savings under your name, perhaps by regularly putting some of your paychecks into a separate account or under a close friend’s name and address, to keep it hidden from your abuser. Victims leaving an abusive relationship should try to take at least half of the money from all the accounts they own jointly with their abuser. Keep in mind that abusers may attempt to drain jointly owned accounts after their victims leave.
Check out Domesticshelters.org, an online searchable database of domestic violence shelters around the country, which can assist with housing after abuse.
If possible, have your credit card and (bank) accounts to ensure you can build a credit history in your name and that you are not left with a bad credit score or unmanageable amounts of debt after escaping your abuser.
Rebuilding financial security and confidence after domestic abuse can be extremely draining and challenging. Financial concerns can also keep victims in abusive relationships and postpone their escape. More and more online and nationwide in-person resources and programs have started teaching survivors the financial skills necessary to recover from abuse, however. There is a lot of power and hope in knowledge. Click on some of the links referenced here to further or begin your financial education journey and reap the benefits.