Best Personal Finance Platform at the APAC Business Awards 2023

From Love to Control: How to Spot and Stop Financial Abuse in Relationships

map to illustrate breaking free from financial abuse

10 min read.

Imagine being trapped in an abusive relationship where your partner controls every aspect of your finances, from your income to your credit. This is the reality for many victims of financial abuse, a pervasive and often overlooked form of domestic violence. Recognizing and addressing it is vital to empower survivors and help them rebuild their lives.

If you are in danger, call the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224, or 911 if it is safe to do so.

Short Summary

  • Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence referring to the use of economic resources to gain power and manipulate one's partner.

  • It is essential to recognize signs to seek help, such as controlling household finances, sabotaging employment, manipulating shared financial assets, and limiting access to other resources not purchased by the spouse.

  • Survivors can rebuild their lives by gaining financial education & empowerment, repairing credit & preventing fraud after escaping the abusive partner.


The banner ads and some links in this blog post contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and join, I may receive a referral commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own and each company featured is individually selected.

Defining Financial Abuse

A woman in distress, showing signs of financial abuse in a domestic violence situation


Financial abuse is a subtle form of domestic violence, where one partner uses economic means to gain power and manipulate the other.

Much like physical abuse, it can be difficult to spot economic abuse as it often begins with minor transgressions that gradually escalate into full-fledged control over the victim's finances.

The objective of the abuser is to achieve dominance and authority in the relationship, often leading to financial instability and entrapment for the victim.

This form of abuse can have serious consequences on the victim's capacity to maintain money, access financial resources, and protect their financial security. In some cases, the abusive partner may even damage the victim's credit history, making it difficult for them to become financially independent.

Understanding the different forms of financial abuse and their impacts can better address and prevent them in relationships.

Types of Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can take various forms, ranging from controlling access to bank accounts to sabotaging employment opportunities.

One particularly insidious type of economic abuse is coerced debt, where the abusive partner compels the victim to obtain a line of credit or carry out transactions in the victim's name. This can leave them burdened with debt they did not consent to, making it difficult to recover financially.

To address coerced debt, victims should file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission and, if safe to do so, with local law enforcement.

Proof of a domestic violence situation needs to be collected. Letters from counselors, shelters, victim advocates, and healthcare providers can support financially abused individuals looking to have their stories heard.

Prevalence and Impact

Financial abuse is alarmingly common, with studies showing that it is present in 99% of domestic violence cases.

Its impact on victims can be devastating, leading to the loss of paid work due to violence inflicted by current or former partners.

46% of domestic violence victims experience credit damage inflicted by their abuser, and 53% of victims in the United States have been terminated from their jobs as a result of their abuser's actions.

The impact of financial abuse extends beyond the immediate monetary situation of the person. It can hinder the victim's ability to seek safety, pursue legal action, and access public benefits.



Recognizing a Financially Abusive Relationship

An image depicting a couple arguing over money, highlighting the issue of financial abuse in relationships.

Identifying financial abuse in a relationship can be challenging, but there are warning signs to look out for. These include a partner controlling finances, interfering with employment, and manipulating shared assets.

Financial abuse occurs when the abusive partner insists on managing finances without input from the other or requiring the other partner to cease working altogether. They may also limit access to items not purchased by the other half, such as a car or other basic needs.

Another aspect of abusive relationships is economic exploitation, where the abuser deliberately depletes the victim's financial resources or credit history. This can lead to severe consequences for the victim, such as difficulty obtaining financial products or being forced to resign from their job.

Control Over Finances

Indications of financial control in relationships may include one spouse refusing to share bank accounts or discuss financial matters, insisting that their intimate partner surrender their income, denying access to funds other than those provided for, and regulating access to economic resources.

When an abuser controls all finances, they may provide the victim with an "allowance" but gradually reduce it. This can lead to the victim being unable to acquire necessities such as food and medicine.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse in a relationship, it is vital to seek help and resources to break free from family violence.

a padlock and key to illustrate the impact of financial abuse

Employment Interference

Employment interference is a form of domestic abuse where a partner attempts to influence the other's ability to maintain economic resources through work.

This can involve obstructing the other from pursuing employment or attending job training. Other forms include stalking or harassing someone at their place of work, or physically assaulting them before important meetings or interviews, to cause them to lose their job or miss out on career opportunities.

It can also be a consequence of financially abusive relationships, as the abuser may use their complete control over the family income to limit the victim's access to their own money and job openings.

In a legal context, interfering with employment refers to intentional actions by an individual or entity to impede or harm another's contractual or business relationships with a third party.

Awareness of the signs of employment sabotage and its implications in domestic violence cases can help victims recognize financial abuse and address it.

Manipulation of Economic Resources

Manipulation of shared assets is the act of one partner in a relationship having control over the money and financial records, while the other has limited or no access to what they require.

Indications of asset manipulation in an abusive relationship may include:

  • Controlling financial information by not including the victim in investment or banking decisions.

  • Draining household finances by running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts

  • Exploiting or hiding shared resources by refusing to share their income while insisting on sharing yours, hiding or transferring funds to a personal account, and not contributing to the family's income.

  • Expecting the victim to ask for permission before spending money, but not discussing their purchases with their spouse. Also, financial abuse occurs when insisting on making significant purchases such as car loans, mortgages, cell phones, or apartment leases only under their name, to render the victim financially dependent.

  • Avoiding the payment of child support or manipulating the divorce process by concealing assets or prolonging it.

  • Interfering with the victim access to money by taking their paycheck, opening bank statements, or threatening to accuse their intimate partner of misusing benefits.

There are other forms of abuse, and in some cases, it may involve obvious acts of physical abuse or intimidation to prevent the victim from accessing family finances or working. Regardless of the method used, abusive partners generally employ similar tactics to exert financial control over their partners.


Breaking Free from Financial Abuse or Domestic Violence

A woman in distress, with a safety plan in her hand

Domestic violence victims need to formulate a safety plan, assemble essential financial documents, and secure safe and affordable housing or shelter to escape financial or emotional abuse.

Local domestic violence programs can provide assistance and financial support to help survivors of abusive situation, and numerous nonprofits empower victims through financial literacy for long-term security.

Urban Resource Institute is an organization that supports domestic abuse survivors and homeless families, particularly those from communities of color and other vulnerable populations. They are currently the biggest national network of domestic violence shelter services in the United States and have significantly impacted the lives of those they help.

Usually, victims must wait until they can extricate themselves from their abuser before they can begin the process of economic recovery. Taking these steps can be incredibly challenging, but they are crucial in regaining control over one's finances and breaking free from the cycle of abuse.

Safety Planning

Safety planning is a personalized, practical plan designed to ensure safety for individuals experiencing abuse, preparing to leave an abusive situation, or after leaving. It is developed through a collaborative process between a clinician or advocate and the victim.

However, a lack of access to money, credit cards, and other financial documents can significantly impede the cover plan. For example, if a victim is facing a severe threat of violence and needs to leave to ensure their safety, this can be difficult without financial means or their own bank account.

Examples of sanctuary planning include establishing a safety plan with a trusted individual, having a bag of essential items prepared for potential emergencies, and establishing a location to go to in the event of the need to leave quickly. Resources include hotlines, shelters, and other organizations that support and assist victims of abuse.

abusive partner withholding money

Securing Essential Documents

When escaping abusive partners, gather important documents such as identification documents, financial statements, access codes, legal documents, bank statements, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and ownership documents. Collecting these documents is crucial, as they may be necessary to apply for government benefits or begin a new job.

Other records to obtain include a Social Security card, health insurance card, passport, and children's identification. Ensuring that these documents are secure and accessible can significantly aid in breaking free from financial abuse and starting the journey toward recovery and independence.

Seeking Safe Shelter and Assistance

Various organizations, such as Safe Horizon provide shelters for victims of domestic abuse or other forms of abuse such as sexual assault and human trafficking. These safe shelters offer essential supplies and short-term accommodation to help survivors regain their footing and begin the process of rebuilding their lives.

If you are concerned about trying to locate a legitimate shelter independently, you may contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can provide assistance and recommendations to those in need. Their hotline is available at 1-800-799-7233.

If you're worried that your internet usage might be tracked, make sure to delete your browser history after using this website. To close this page, click the "X" at the top right corner of the window or press the "Escape" button twice. Please note that internet activity monitoring is possible and cannot be completely erased.

Escaping abusive relationships requires having access to new housing options, which is difficult to achieve with restricted financial resources. This guide highlights safety tips from domestic violence experts, ways to leave and create a safe home, and 8 types of assistance available for survivors to help in their recovery. 

Rebuilding After Financial Abuse

A woman in a safe shelter, with access to financial resources and education

After escaping an abusive relationship, survivors should seek financial education and empowerment to rebuild their lives. This includes creating a budget, setting financial goals, and enhancing credit scores. It is also crucial to review and freeze credit reports to prevent further fraud.

With the right support, resources, and determination, victims of financial abuse can regain control over their finances and achieve long-term economic security. The journey to recovery will be tough, but it is possible with the right tools and assistance.


The Credit Pros

Financial Education and Empowerment

Financial education is the process of acquiring knowledge about personal finance, such as budgeting, saving tips, investing, and comprehending financial products and services. It can assist individuals in making informed decisions regarding their finances and attaining financial objectives.

However, survivors of various forms of financial abuse often face obstacles in achieving financial independence and long-term security due to irregular employment records, impaired credit histories, and legal issues stemming from their past experiences.

These measures include formulating a budget, accumulating an emergency fund, enhancing credit scores, and consulting a professional.

Learn more with this guide on financial literacy for women.

Financial Independence eBook covers

Repairing Credit and Preventing Fraud

To repair credit and prevent fraud after escaping financial abuse, close any joint accounts and credit cards with the abuser and freeze your credit report to protect against potential fraudulent activity .

Opening a new bank account solely in your name and transferring any accessible funds into it is also recommended.

Creating a budget and addressing credit card debt can also be crucial steps in rebuilding credit. By monitoring how they spend money and devising a plan to pay off credit card debt, survivors of financial abuse can regain control over their finances and work towards achieving financial independence.


The Credit Pros

Final Words

Financial abuse is a prevalent and often overlooked form of domestic violence that can have devastating consequences for its victims. By recognizing the signs of financial abuse, understanding its various forms, and taking steps to break free from the cycle of abuse, survivors can aim to regain control over their lives and finances.

With the right support, resources, and determination, survivors of financial abuse can rebuild their lives, achieve long-term financial security, and ultimately end domestic violence cycle.

man looking out representing escapism from abusive situations

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of violence and exploitation that typically involves controlling access to financial resources, withholding money or possessions, and exploiting the victim for financial gain.

It includes malicious actions such as hiding assets, stealing identity, property, or inheritance, refusing to pay bills, or forcing victims into unpaid labor in the family business.

Financial abuse can have devastating long-term consequences, making it essential for victims to seek help as soon as possible.

man alone in high office representing someone who control all finances

What are the 3 types of financial abuse?

Financial abuse can come in many forms, including borrowing and not returning money, stealing money or belongings, taking away pension payments or other benefits, and demanding money as payment for visits or spending time together.

These are all unacceptable behaviors that can have devastating consequences for victims.

What are specific examples of financial abuse?

Financial abuse can manifest in many ways, including withholding money or access to bank accounts, preventing a partner from earning an income, making unilateral financial decisions, or running up debt on joint credit cards.

Taking control of all assets and using funds for personal gain is another form of financial abuse.

What is evidence of financial abuse?

Financial abuse is the exploitation of a person's access to and use of their resources, including money, credit cards, or assets. It involves controlling or spending someone's money without their permission for personal gain.

This manipulative behavior can have long-lasting financial consequences, denying individuals freedom and independence.

Ebookopedia Financial eBooks covers 

No Investment Advice. This article does not provide financial advice and has been prepared without taking into account any person’s investment objectives, financial situation, or particular needs.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published