The Warning Signs of Financial Abuse and Steps for Prevention

Craig Adams |

By Chelsea Adams, PhD

Culturally, we may be encouraged to blend our lives, including finances, when we get married or enter a committed relationship; we open the joint account, close our individual accounts, and combine resources. But that type of blending creates a powerful economic tool of control to keep abuse victims in dangerous situations. Economic or financial abuse can go unnoticed for longer than other types of abuse because it can be hidden within that blending of lives; to friends and family, it can look like a spouse or significant other is caretaking, or it can be hidden altogether from the public eye when financial situation is kept entirely private. 

When you’re in a situation where you’re subject to financial or economic abuse, it may start so subtly you do not notice it at first. In situations of financial abuse, an abuser takes over control of household finances, conceals financial information, and withholds money from the victim to keep control and power in a relationship. In situations of economic abuse, the abuser takes financial abuse takes it a step further: they control access to essential resources to live. The abuser can withhold all access to finances to create instability and limit freedom to hold a job, travel, access essentials like food, or even cut off a victim’s ability to communicate with people. They may get the victim fired from work, steal personal information such as a Social Security number or birth certificate, and destroy the victim’s credit by opening multiple credit lines and maxxing them out. At worst, economic abuse causes loss of all assets, including property.

Of surveyed abused women, nearly 100 percent experienced some sort of financial abuse. About a third of people surveyed in The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse said that they had to get money from their abuser. About a quarter of survey participants said they had no money for essentials in the relationship, and another third either gave up their home or ended up homeless due to lack of financial resources and support. Nearly 60 percent of people who left an abusive relationship felt that the economic abuse impacted ability to work.

With such severe affects, how do you recognize financial abuse before it traps you? Be aware of the warning signs:

  1. Your partner closely monitors all your purchases.
  2. You aren’t allowed to handle household money, even if you earn it.
  3. You and your partner don’t discuss finances or large purchases.
  4. Your credit score has suddenly, unexpectedly declined.
  5. You are given a monthly allowance, likely less than you need to run a household.
  6. You aren’t allowed to hold a job.
  7. You’re denied access to a bank account.
  8. Children’s savings and gift money is stolen.
  9. You aren’t allowed to get an education to better yourself and career.
  10. All assets are in your partner’s name only.

If you find yourself checking off these warning signs, you may be in an abusive situation, and your next steps should be to prep for escape.

Your local domestic violence shelter will be able to get you information on how to prepare to leave an abusive situation. Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Have a trusted contact.
  2. Have a safe and secure space to keep emergency cash.
  3. If you have access to the bank account and can withdraw money, take your half of the money from the account as you are leaving so that the abuser can’t drain it of funds before you can get to it.

After you’ve been able to successfully get out of the financially abusive situation, consider speaking with a financial professional to help you with the steps to rebuild your financial foundation.


The opinions voiced in this show (program; podcast) are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.