April is Financial Literacy Month
The United States has recognized April as Financial Literacy Month since 2003, in order to shine a spotlight on the importance of economic and financial education. Among the important things to be aware of when it comes to your personal finances is how your past or current relationships may be affecting your financial health.
A Healthy Financial Relationship:
Healthy financial relationships are about compromise, equality, and communication. Here are some signs of a healthy financial relationship:
- Both partners have access to any financial information (even if one partner might manage the day-to-day finances and bill paying).
- Both partners negotiate to form joint financial goals, even though they may have different values around money.
- Couples set plans to meet joint goals and support each other in the process.
- One partner may earn more income. But both partners understand and respect that decision-making is equal.
- Both partners have access to their money. They do not need to ask permission or hide their day-today spending.
- Large or long-term financial decisions are made jointly between partners.
- Both partners are honest. Both have access to money and know where and how money is spent.
Recognizing Financial Abuse:
Financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases. Survivors often cite financial concerns as the main reason they stayed with, or returned to, an abusive partner. Batterers use financial abuse to control their partners and to make them feel alone. The consequences can be devastating. The experience of abuse is different for every survivor. Financial abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of income, education or level of independence.
An Abusive Financial Relationship:
Abuse can take many forms. Each one is a tool to get and maintain control over another person. The goal is to trap the person in the relationship. Financial abuse works by controlling access to money and other resources. It might include:
- Controlling how money is spent
- Withholding money or “giving an allowance”
- Withholding basic living resources, medication or food
- Not allowing a partner to work or earn money
- Stealing a partner’s identity, money, credit or property
What should you do if you are being financially abused?
Step One: Think about your confidence level regarding finances.
Do you feel able to manage your finances? If you don’t, understand that your abuser probably wanted you to feel this way. This was a way to maintain power and control over you. Know that gaining confidence is in your reach. You may need information, assistance and support. With these, you can become a successful money manager. You can work toward setting and meeting your own financial goals. You may or may not choose to leave your relationship. Whatever you choose, financial safety planning is critical. Although there is no perfect way to guarantee your safety, you can take steps to increase your options. Resources like All State’s Moving Ahead tools can help.
Step Two: Gain information about your assets and liabilities.
It is common for abusive partners to hide information about assets, bank accounts and liabilities (debts). Consider looking for financial documents. Make copies and hide them in a safe place. One possible hiding place is a safety deposit box. You can rent one at a local bank for a small fee to store documents safely without telling your partner. You can also store copies at a friend’s or family member’s house.
There are other documents that should be stored in a safe place. These include:
- Social Security numbers (for yourself, children and your partner)
- Copies of marriage and birth certificates
- Copies of bank and credit card statement
- Copies of any benefits (public assistance, retirement) or insurance coverage (medical, auto, life, etc.)
Is there property that you own jointly with your partner? These could be items such as a home, cars and furniture. Make a list of the things you own together. Consider taking pictures of these things. To show that the things were part of your home, include children, family or friends. These pictures can be very helpful if you decide to leave the relationship.
Step Three: Begin saving money immediately.
It is common for abusers to prevent their partner from having money of their own. Consider finding a way to save some cash for yourself. This could be used for emergencies or if you need to escape on short notice. Saving money can be a challenge. It’s possible, but it does take some creativity.
- Save change from purchases and keep it in a safe place or the secret account
- Open a bank account that your partner is unaware of. Have bank statements sent to a safe mailing address or electronically to your own private email account.
- Have gifts, raises or bonuses from work or family deposited directly into the secret account
Also, consider taking at least half of the money in any joint checking and savings accounts with you if you leave. Many victims have been surprised to learn their partner had drained their joint bank accounts when they leave. This can be a very powerful method of regaining control. Taking at least half of the money is a way of protecting yourself. Withdrawing money from a joint account can provide you the means to take care of yourself and your children. However, if you do remove funds from a jointly held account, it’s important to keep receipts or track how the funds were spent. This is in case a judge or court asks you to show how the money was used.
This is especially true when children are involved. If you are hesitant to withdraw money, remember that you can always return it. Let taking care of yourself and any children be your top priority.
Step Four: Seek financial independence, one step at a time.
Consider opening your own checking account and applying for a credit card. Having a personal checking account and at least one credit card in your name ensures that you have your own personal credit history. These are four steps to help prepare you for leaving your relationship. Again, we urge you to seek the help of a domestic violence advocate. You can find one at a local domestic violence program. An advocate can give you additional guidance as you prepare for personal and financial independence. There is one more thing you may also want to consider—filing for an order of protection. This is especially important if you have experienced threats or feel that you are in danger.
Please visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s website for access to the Allstate Moving Ahead Through Financial Management Curriculum.