Abusive relationships not only involve physical and emotional violence—they often include financial abuse as well. Indeed financial abuse occurs in 99 percent of all cases of domestic violence, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). It can be an invisible weapon that keeps victims trapped in abusive relationships.
Economic abuse prevents victims from acquiring, using or maintaining financial resources—for example, preventing a partner from working or accessing a bank or credit card. Access to financial resources, including insurance, can make all the difference to domestic violence victims.
The following strategies can help victims achieve financial security:
Key documents include your birth certificate, drivers license, passport, etc. Keep key financial documents such as bank account information and insurance policies with a trusted family member or friend, or obtain a bank safety deposit box.
Protect your credit profile by changing your ATM and debit card PIN codes, as well as online banking and email passwords—and close any joint banking or credit card accounts before you leave your abuser. You may also want to consider setting up a P.O. Box to conceal personal and finance related mail. You can also contact the Social Security Administration if you need to obtain a new Social Security number (SSN).
Knowledge is power, so it is important to understand where you stand financially. Figure out your main sources of income, bank account balances, any property owned and debts owed. If your spouse or partner has had control of the family finances, find out if your bills have been paid. A lapsed insurance policy or unpaid credit-card bill could create financial problems down the road.
With a good sense of your financial picture, you’ll be in a better position to plan your exit. Begin with estimating your income and expenses to see if the money you earn right now will allow you to meet basic needs. Also, start a savings plan and create an emergency fund so there is a safety net in place once you leave.
Auto Insurance – If you plan to take a car with you when you leave your abuser, you will need to get separate auto insurance coverage immediately. And if you buy a new car, you should purchase a new auto policy before the car is registered. Make sure you are removed from any joint auto policies to protect yourself in the event your former partner is involved in an accident and gets sued.
Homeowners and Renters Insurance – When you move out of the house, it is likely you will be renting, or even buying, a place to live and will need to purchase a renters or homeowners insurance policy. This will protect you in the event your belongings are stolen or destroyed by an insured disaster. Choose your deductible carefully: With a low deductible you will pay higher premiums, while a larger deductible means you will pay less for the policy.
Life Insurance – If you own your own life insurance policy or participate in a group policy through your employer, you have the right to change the beneficiary and probably should. If you do not have a life insurance policy and have children or other dependents who would be affected financially by your death, it is important to purchase your own coverage as soon as possible. Opting for term life insurance, which provides protection for a specific period of time, typically offers the greatest amount of coverage for the lowest initial premium cost and can make buying enough coverage affordable.
Having a good credit report is essential to starting a new life—it can help you more easily rent an apartment, obtain a new credit card and get better rates on your insurance. To keep your credit intact, take care of any current debts and avoid missing payments. And establish a new credit record under your own name, especially if all previous credit was held jointly with your spouse.
Obtain a copy of your credit report and monitor your credit often to see if it has been adversely affected by your partner’s actions—it will show if there are any shared debts that are being neglected and can point you in the right direction when canceling any joint accounts. Most financial institutions provide credit monitoring services at low costs.
The biggest misconception held by people in abusive relationships is that they are alone and cannot get help. If you are in a precarious financial situation, or have limited money management skills, it may be difficult to implement some of the steps mentioned above, but there is assistance available: Local domestic violence programs, libraries, the internet and faith-based organizations are good places to start.
To locate a domestic violence program in your community, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.