I had never owned a credit card. They were a bit scary and foreign to me with all the different interest rates and spending limits. My parents never taught me about credit, as theirs was very undesirable. I knew getting a credit card could help me build my score, but I was so naïve to it all. My ex-husband was very encouraging of it. He told me we could pay everything off as quickly as we spent it so that there was no interest, and that it would only be used in “emergencies.” He also was excited to think about the possibilities of our future if we could just improve our credit. So, I applied and was approved.
It began nicely. We would use it to buy the little things needed here and there, and then we would pay it off. I didn’t get approved for much because my credit score was low, but it was a start. I felt empowered to finally do something good for my name, like one of those real “grown-up” life decisions, even if I was almost 30 years old. I had a goal in mind after years of just getting by financially, putting my dreams aside for other people, becoming a mom of three, and never feeling like I had achieved the milestones and success I wanted to in life. One credit card gave way to being offered a few more, and I felt like I was in a perfect rhythm of getting my credit on track.
One day, my ex-husband came into the house acting annoyed and stressed out. After asking him what was wrong, he disclosed that the customer that he was doing work for was late with his payment. The money was supposed to go towards a bill that was due. He looked at me and said, “we are going to have to put it on your credit card.” It was more of a demand than a request. I was not happy about it and felt uneasy, but I also knew that this bill needed to be paid, or we would be in bigger trouble. With reluctance, I gave my credit card information to the company. He promised it would be paid back as soon as the customer’s money came in.
This wasn’t the only time this would occur, and the more bills that were being paid by my credit cards, the less it seemed as though the customers’ money was replacing it. I started getting notices for past due amounts. I was so upset because the plan was to consistently owe nothing so that the interest rate would not be an issue. Now, not only was I in debt for the money spent on the card but the interest that had accrued as well. I looked to my ex-husband and asked where the money was. He didn’t seem to have these fluke issues before, so I didn’t understand why it was happening now.
It wasn’t too long before all my credit cards were closed out. My credit score plummeted and so did my chances of those milestones that I was chasing. I found out later that the money that he was supposed to pay me back went into his pocket, feeding his drug addiction that I didn’t know about at that time and bad business choices. I also found out that he used my name in other customer dealings. I had one lady who I had never met threaten to try to have me arrested because my bank account was used by him to take her payment for a job that he never completed. He left me owing thousands for money that I never even saw, but because we were married, he got away with it.
I didn’t realize until the end of the marriage that I was a victim of financial abuse. I couldn’t see the ways that he had held me down financially to keep me trapped and use me because he so deviously brainwashed me with tactics of guilt and manipulation. The sabotage only got worse when he could see me starting to exit the relationship. He would start huge fights before job interviews, lie about me to others in attempts to ruin my reputation including with a boss of mine, and steal from me numerous times when I started to make and collect money. He even did this to me after I left during the divorce process as I was homeless with our three children. He didn’t pay back a dime of the debts; in fact, I had a bank come after me legally leaving me no choice but to pay out of my own pocket to avoid being sued. To this day, I am reconstructing my credit from all the damage he did, all while raising our children without his help in any way.
Financial abuse is far more than withholding money from someone. Many abusers will use tactics to manipulate and exploit their partners in other ways that cause long-term damage such as:
- ruining their partner’s credit
- using their partner’s social security number to open accounts
- forging their partner’s signature on documents
- nonpayment of bills in their partner’s name
- causing evictions and foreclosures for homes with their partner’s name on the contracts
The victim of this can try to go after the abuser legally or in the divorce agreement; however, this can be difficult to prove if the abuse occurred during the marriage where everything is legally 50/50. By many state laws, either party in the marriage can use funds from accounts even if they are listed with only one name. If it is mediated and agreed upon in the divorce contract, one party can be held responsible for paying the debt, but unfortunately, many abusers will simply not agree to this.
The best defense against further abuse is to change all passwords and means of access that the other party may still be familiar with. In my situation, one random thing that many people may not think about after separation that he did was he added his truck to my car insurance without my permission, so I had to add a password for anyone who tried to call into customer service. He even tried to steal and use my streaming TV service! It’s incredible the lengths that abusers will go to just to try to hurt and profit from their intimate partners.
The good news is that credit can be restored, debt can be paid, and a victim’s name can be redeemed. Money can be replaced, but lives cannot be. It’s important to know that even if finances are an issue, it’s imperative to try to get out of abuse as quickly as possible before it’s too late. Financial abuse IS abuse, even if that’s the only form of it in the relationship. That can quickly change as seen in many domestic violence cases. Be empowered and take charge of your life in every way.
I am already starting to see those milestones that I have dreamed about coming to fruition and without the burden of abuse, one step at a time. It all began the day that I got out.