Woman on couch with head in hand signifying financial abuse

Financial Abuse – 4 Forms It Can Take and How to Get Help

Financial abuse is one of the most sinister kinds of domestic violence in large part because it’s not widely recognized as a form of abuse, even though it often accompanies physical violence and other forms of abuse. 

According to research, financial abuse is present in 99% of domestic violence cases, but it’s often underreported because it can be hard to prove and victims often feel ashamed that it happened in the first place.

Read on to understand what financial abuse means, the different forms it may take, the devastating effects, and how you can seek help if you’re being controlled in this way.

What is Financial Abuse?

According to financial therapist Dr. Erika Rasure, financial abuse is a “tactic used to control another person’s access to money as a powerful way to keep the victim engaged in a relationship with an abuser.” 

Dr. Rasure says that this kind of abuse can ultimately “make it very difficult for victims to gain independence, safety, and long-term financial security, in addition to recovering from the trauma of the abusive relationship.”

4 Forms Financial Abuse Can Take

1. Obstructing Your Work

This could look like your partner:

  • harassing you during work hours, 
  • forcing you to miss days or important meetings, 
  • making you late, 
  • or even compelling you to quit your job. 

Financial abuse often comes in the guise of “care.” Dr. Rasure says that a partner may even ask you to quit with assurances that they’ll take care of you financially. 

2. Controlling Your Finances

Money being handed to another hand at store signifying financial abuse through controlling finances

An abusive partner will often take control of your budget and finances. This type of power and control is particularly insidious because it can be perfectly normal for a couple to designate one person to be in charge of finances. As long as there’s trust and nothing is being hidden, one person taking that responsibility is fine.

But if someone is restricting access to funds, that is a huge red flag. This form of financial abuse may look like your significant other:

  • barring access to your bank accounts or credit accounts by hiding passwords,
  • keeping accounts and assets in their name only, 
  • giving you an allowance and forcing you to show receipts of your purchases,
  • or making decisions about finances without consulting you.

3. Stealing From You

Financial abuse can often involve an intimate partner:

  • taking your property, 
  • using your credit,
  • or spending your money.

According to Dr. Rasure, abusive partners will often even require you to hand over your paychecks.

4. Financial Sabotage

An abusive partner may also try to destroy your finances to keep you under their control. 

They may open or use lines of credit in your name, run up debt, and not pay it off. This is sometimes called “coerced debt.” Not only are victims obligated to a debt they didn’t create, it often ruins their credit.

Another form of financial sabotage is when a partner refuses to pay child support. Dr. Rasure says that in these cases, the abuser often “delays court proceedings with excessive litigation tactics intended to ruin you financially.”

The Effects of Financial Abuse

The impact of financial abuse is immeasurable. 

Not only can it wreck the victim’s self-esteem, potentially keeping them from career progression, it can damage their employment history on paper and pepper a background check with legal and credit issues.

Financial abuse can also leave someone destitute with their money and assets stolen, and often their credit ruined. Because of this, many victims stay with their abuser because they feel they have no other choice. Without access to funds, it’s difficult to create a safety net, so they don’t see a way out. 

How to Get Help If You’re Experiencing Financial Abuse

close-up of someone holding the hand of another person.

If you or someone you know is experiencing financial or domestic abuse, you should call the National Domestic Violence hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) and work with a trained domestic violence advocate. 

As long as it safe for you to do so, you might also consider:

  • Collecting as much hard evidence as you can. This could include credit card statements and any other financial documentation that shows what transpired. The DocuSafe app can help you do this.
  • Contacting your bank and credit card companies and either freezing your accounts or changing your account information (PINs, passwords, etc.).
  • Plan out next steps, including where you might be able to stay (with family members, at a shelter, or at a rented apartment) and a reasonable cost budget after you leave your abuser.
  • Taking out an order of protection, or a restraining order, against your abuser. This can come with child support, mortgage, property, rent assistance and other financial resources.
  • Applying for micro-loans through the NNEDV’s (National Network to End Domestic Violence) Independence Project. You get small loans of $100 and pay them back so you can rebuild your credit. The NNEDV tracks repayments and reports them to the credit bureaus.

Final Words

Financial abuse is one of the most powerful tactics in controlling someone. It’s frequently accompanied by verbal, emotional, and physical abuse which can all demolish a person’s sense of self-worth and confidence, making them less likely to seek help.

If you’re in a financially abusive relationship, know that there is help out there. Change will not happen overnight, but there are plentiful resources to help you with safety planning and to help you escape your situation, rebuild your life and your finances, and take back control. 

If you’re a Beyond Finance client, you have access to weekly Financial Wellness sessions! These are hosted by Dr. Erika Rasure (quoted in this article) and Nathan Astle, both renowned financial therapists. Click here to register for the next session. 

If you’re not a Beyond Finance client but are interested in tackling your debt, click here for a free consultation!