- Financial abuse occurs in 99% of all domestic violence instances, yet 78% of Americans haven't heard about financial abuse as it relates to domestic violence.
- Lacking financial knowledge or resources is the number one indicator of whether a domestic violence victim will stay, leave, or return to an abusive relationship.
- For domestic violence victims who want to become survivors, financial empowerment programs can make the world a little more manageable and financial independence a realistic goal.
Did you know that financial abuse occurs in 99% of all domestic violence instances? Financial abuse is a major aspect of almost every domestic violence situation, yet, it is not easily recognized. In fact, the same survey found that 78% of Americans had not heard about financial abuse as it relates to domestic violence.
So prominent is financial abuse in most domestic violence cases that, of the seven in eight women who go back to an abusive partner after leaving, a significant portion attribute the return to financial pressures.
Indeed, lacking financial knowledge or resources is the number one indicator of whether a domestic violence victim will stay, leave, or return to an abusive relationship.
Link Between COVID-19 and Financial Abuse
As the toll of COVID-19 continues to be felt across the world, mounting data suggests that domestic violence is acting like an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic.
Added to the increase in domestic violence incidents is the economic strain felt by many families as millions of people are laid-off or furloughed. This additional financial pressure significantly reduces the chances of victims leaving abusive relationships. It is not hard to imagine that during COVID-19, abusers might even withhold money for food and other necessities from domestic violence victims.
For domestic violence victims who want to become survivors, financial empowerment programs can make the world a little more manageable and financial independence a realistic goal.
With that, here are 6 things that can help victims of domestic violence financially plan to fund their escape from an abusive relationship.
1. Assess Your Financial Situation
It is really important to educate yourself on your financial situation. First, work on understanding how your experience of dealing with financial abuse makes you feel about your ability to manage finances. With education, assistance and support you can become a successful money manager and work toward setting and achieving your own financial goals.
If you have never handled the money in the relationship, if you have lost control of it, or if you have joint accounts, there are steps you can take to get back on top of things.
- If possible, start with a thorough accounting of your household finances. What are the household assets, and how much debt are you carrying? Which are joint accounts and which are just in one person’s name? Whose names are on the mortgage? How much income is coming in?
- Make copies of everything that identifies you or with your address on it. This includes photo ID, Social Security Numbers (SSN), passports, bank statements, mortgages, credit cards, superannuation, bills and any subscriptions with your name on it.
- Change to text or electronic email statements or bills, as much as possible over direct postal mail. Change your forwarding address of important mail if you know where you are leaving to, and if you cannot use or access a private email account.
- Stash all of your private financial or other important information or items with a trusted friend or in a safe place that your abuser won’t get access to ahead of your leaving.
It is a very common strategy for an abusive partner to hide assets and information about bank accounts and debts. Consider safe ways of doing some investigative work to find financial documents and don’t forget to make copies of these documents.
2. Open Your Own Bank Account
If you don’t already have your own bank account, make it your first priority to open one. Choose a reputable bank that fits your needs. Some offer in-person budgeting help or options to help customers manage their finances online.
- To start building your financial safety net, open a checking account at a different bank than the one where your spouse has an account, this is to avoid any wires getting crossed.
- Opening a bank account is typically a simple process. Some banks require minimum deposits for opening certain types of accounts. It’s a good idea to open both a checking and savings account and start contributing to savings as you’re able.
- Contact your financial institutions and ask to speak with someone who handles domestic violence issues. Most of the big banks have services to help protect victims from abusers.
3. Start Saving Immediately
It’s not always possible to save money when you are in an abusive relationship because you may not be in control of your own cash flow.
But if you are able to save some money with the knowledge that you intend to leave, then the more money you can save to cover the basics such as rent, food and travel costs, the better.
Ways to save extra cash include:
- One possibility is having raises or bonuses from work deposited directly into an account that your abusive partner is unaware of (make sure to have bank statements sent to a special safe address).
- Sell items you don’t need via an online platform where you can’t be identified such as Facebook, eBay or Gumtree.
- Buy items or foods your abuser does not like and then return the items in exchange for cash and hide the cash.
- Start a side job where you are paid cash or into your own private separate bank account or PayPal account.
Also, should you decide to leave, consider taking at least half of the money in your joint checking and saving accounts. Taking at least half of the money is a way of protecting yourself and ensuring that you have the means to take care of yourself. If you are hesitant to do this, remember that you can always deposit it back.
4. Start Building Your Credit
Your credit report determines how trustworthy you are in the eyes of lenders. Without a good credit score, you may be denied for personal loans, mortgages, vehicle financing and more. If you are liable for any debts, send a copy of any court orders to the credit company explaining your situation. Also, send a letter to credit reporting agencies. Such extenuating circumstances as domestic violence may help you qualify for a credit card.
- Work on rehabilitating your credit score. You may have to settle for a credit card with a high APR until enough time has passed. If you have assets stashed away, you can post collateral for a secured credit card. A secured card extends you as much credit as the amount you’ve posted. Additionally, secured credit cards, unlike prepaid debit cards, help to raise your credit score.
- If you believe you are in danger if you use your social security number or trigger a credit inquiry, get a one-time-use prepaid debit card. You can buy prepaid cards at a CVS or Wal-Mart and load it up with as much money as you want for a small (usually $5 or less) fee. While it won’t help rehabilitate your credit score or earn interest, it is perfectly anonymous.
5. Make a Budget
Once you have your own account set up, the next step is to make a budget that fits your needs. By taking the time and effort to budget out your expenses, you can take control of where exactly your money is going.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all budget; determine what works best for you and your financial goals and will keep you from spending more than you make each month.
6. Know your legal options
Try if you can to get legal advice through legal aid first before going to a lawyer. Legal aid is free and a lawyer very rarely is.
In any instance of domestic violence, your safety should be your top priority. If you feel you may be in danger, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY1-800-787-3224 or a local hotline in your area. You can search a directory of domestic violence programs and shelters near you at domesticshelters.org.