What Is Financial Abuse? How To Recognize The Signs And Move Forward
Content Warning: This article contains mention of abuse. If you or someone you know is or may be experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
Financial abuse occurs in nearly all domestic violence cases. To be exact, it occurs in 99% of cases. Despite the negative effects of financial abuse, there are ways to move forward and escape abusive relationships, whether with a partner, friend, or family. Below, we’ll look at what constitutes financial abuse and strategies to help victims of financial abuse find freedom.
What Is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse is a common form of abuse through which one individual seeks control over another individual's financial resources or otherwise interferes with finances in a way that causes harm. In an interpersonal relationship where financial abuse occurs, the perpetrator may control the household finances, take advantage of or steal from the other person's income, forbid the other to work and make their own money, or make financial decisions in the other person's name without their consent.
At times, financial abuse is also called economic abuse. As a form of intimate partner violence, it's often used to keep someone stuck in a relationship or control the other person. However, romantic or intimate partners aren't always the culprit. Family and caregivers can also engage in financial abuse, and it can be a major problem among elderly individuals who are cared for by family.
Financial abuse in relationships often begins slowly—and covertly, like with many other forms of abuse. Sometimes, it includes an aspect of feigned care for the person on the receiving end. The perpetrator may say that this is "for your good," or they may state that they're taking care of the finances to help the person because they’re so busy or overwhelmed. Even if you feel that something's off, the person may attempt to convince you to second-guess yourself. Financial abuse may occur independently, but it can also be paired with other forms of abuse, including verbal and emotional abuse, physical abuse, stalking, and sexual abuse.
Signs Of Financial Abuse In Relationships
How do you spot financial abuse? Here are some of the common potential signs and manifestations of this form of abuse:
Controlling household finances
Keeping secrets about household finances or assets that affect the other adult in the relationship
Forbidding someone from working or actively trying to sabotage employment opportunities
Withholding finances or determining/providing an "allowance" to the other adult in the relationship
Taking money from the paychecks of the other adult in the relationship
Driving up large amounts of debt on joint financial accounts
Taking and not providing to joint financial accounts
Stealing someone's identity, inheritance, or property
Withholding basic needs or the funds someone requires to obtain basic needs, such as food and childcare products
Forcing someone to write bad checks or submit fraudulent tax returns
Forcing the other adult to give them money from public benefits or threatening to turn the other adult in for misuse of benefits
Refusing to pay child support, evading child support, or drawing out the divorce process by hiding information about assets
Submitting false insurance claims
Refusing to pay bills and ruining the other adult's credit score
Forcing someone to work (e.g., in a family business) unpaid or for less than minimum wage
Since financial abuse isn't talked about frequently, not everyone identifies this form of abuse when they go through it. This is one of the reasons why awareness surrounding abuse tactics is so important.
Financial abuse can make it difficult to leave a relationship because it means that one very literally may not have the resources they need to do so. However, it can be done, and there are resources available to help. Many individuals find it helpful to run a credit check on themselves to find out about their financial standing and see if there's any abnormal activity. They may also do things like save cash, freeze their credit if necessary to defend it, and create a plan for their future.
Impacts Of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse can have long-term effects. These effects may vary based on the specific details of the perpetrator's actions, and they can last long after the relationship has ended. These can include debt or limits that affect someone's ability to obtain housing or credit.
It is possible, however, for survivors to rebuild their financial health. One positive first step may be exiting the crisis by contacting friends, family, or a shelter. Then, a short-term plan can be used to help someone get back on their feet and achieve or work toward financial stability. After that, a long-term plan may be beneficial. Those who work with individuals who have survived abuse or are currently exiting abuse situations are aware of how a perpetrator may seek to gain control over the other person. In addition to helping individuals exit these situations, they may be able to offer guidance on ways to pursue financial healing. Ongoing stability is often crucial for survivors, and it is achievable.
How To Move Forward As A Survivor
No one deserves abuse. If you are a survivor of financial abuse, it is possible to move forward and heal. Whether the abuse was recent or far in the past, it is possible to start the healing process. Below are some actionable strategies you might implement:
Pursue financial healing. It can take time to heal from financial abuse emotionally. Be kind and compassionate toward yourself as you rebuild, and don't hesitate to seek help. You may not be able to undo everything; for example, you may not be able to get back the money that your former partner, family, or caretaker spent. Still, it is possible to rebuild your financial health.
Establish peer and social support. Strong, healthy interpersonal connections are often advantageous for those who have overcome abuse. You might turn to the positive people in your life who make you feel good about who you are. Support groups may be valuable for those who have overcome financial abuse, especially if you feel alone in what you're going through or don't currently have people to turn to in your daily life. Support groups are typically free of cost and can be found online or in face-to-face settings.
Work with a therapist. A trauma-informed therapist can help you heal from abuse. Intimate partner violence can affect people in many ways, potentially impacting self-esteem and interfering with friendships, potential future partnerships, and familial relationships. It can also contribute to the development of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. A therapist can help you work through these effects and guide you through the steps you want to take to recover and rebuild your life.
The healing process from abuse isn't always a linear one, and it can have many ups and downs. However, as you find steady ground, you can build a life that makes you feel happy, confident, and strong. When recovering from abuse, many people find it helpful to re-discover what they enjoy or discover new activities and pursuits. These can include hobbies, new career plans, or something else.
Online therapy has been proven to be effective for several mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and more. It's just like in-person therapy, but it's conducted remotely. There are various ways to find a therapist who offers virtual sessions, and one of the easiest is to sign up for an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. BetterHelp has over 20,000 independent, licensed mental health professionals on the platform. The therapists on the BetterHelp platform have a range of specialties, and when you sign up, you'll complete a short series of questions that'll help our team match you with a provider who has experience with financial abuse. If you don't like the first therapist you work with through BetterHelp, we make it easy to switch, and you can cancel your plan at any point in time if you need to.
Also, BetterHelp plans are often more affordable than traditional in-person services without insurance. You'll be billed once a month, and financial aid may be available for those who qualify.
If you have been experiencing financial abuse, you don’t have to navigate this process alone. You can talk to a licensed therapist with knowledge and experience in recovery from financial abuse. Ready to get started? Click here for more information about BetterHelp today.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is Considered Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse can occur in many different ways. Someone may open or use existing accounts to spend money (that you do or don't have, i.e., via debit or credit) in your name or using a joint account, rack up debt without your knowledge, refuse to pay bills, control household finances, or keep secrets about finances that impact your financial standing.
What Are The Warning Signs Of Financial Abuse?
Here are some possible warning signs of financial abuse:
A person who takes control over your joint or personal finances.
A partner who doesn't let you see or learn about financial details that impact you and your household.
A partner restricting (or attempting to restrict) you from employment.
Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts.
Unusual activity in bank accounts or your bank account.
Unpaid household bills with no viable explanation.
An unexplained shortage of finances.
Regardless of your gender, womenshealth.gov has a list of things you can do to defend yourself and your finances, whether you are or are not ready to leave a relationship. Find more information at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/other-types/financial-abuse.
Who Is At Risk Of Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse can affect anyone. However, individuals who are elderly can be more vulnerable to financial abuse and may face a heightened risk. The pandemic has also impacted financial abuse and its prevalence, and pregnant individuals may face greater vulnerability to financial abuse for various reasons.