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    Financial Abuse Isn't Talked About Enough, So Here's What You Should Know

    "Financial abusers use money as a weapon."

    According to the Allstate Foundation, 1 in 4 women in the United States experiences domestic violence at some point in their lives. And one study found that 99% of women surveyed who had experienced domestic abuse also reported going through financial abuse, coercion, and control.

    Couple having an argument at home
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    In fact, financial abuse can be one of the main reasons why people stay in or return to abusive relationships. Yet this form of abuse is not often talked about and little understood.

    So I corresponded with Shannon Thomas, trauma therapist and author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, to learn more about what financial abuse is and what warning signs to watch out for.

    And to find some real-world examples of what financial abuse can look like, I dug into this Reddit thread where people shared their personal experiences and looked at resources from One Love, VeryWellMind, and Forbes.

    In a nutshell, financial abuse is when someone else uses abusive tactics to control your financial situation for their benefit.

    Sometimes financial abuse can involve someone exploiting your hard-earned cash for themselves.

    This redditor's story really encapsulates how damaging this kind of abuse can be.

    "I worked 40+ hours a week while in school. He refused to hold down a job. Any cash tips that I made routinely went missing from the box I kept them in. He tried to tell me I 'must have misplaced it,' until I walked in on him taking my cash out of my bedroom. By the end of that relationship, I'd paid for both his cars, all their modifications, [and] all his gas and groceries. I was so strapped for cash that I couldn't afford shoes for work. I couldn't afford to have impacted wisdom teeth removed. He told me I was 'being dramatic.'

    I kept cash because he got a hold of my debit card and wiped out my account, so I closed it."


    Or a financial abuser might try to get you fired from your job or destroy your livelihood.

    Person who was just fired sitting on steps next to a box of their things
    Sukanya Sitthikongsak / Getty Images

    In these situations, the abuser might:

    - Make harassing phone calls to you and others at your place of work

    - Try to convince you to quit your job

    - Take actions that make it impossible for you to get to work, like taking your car without telling you

    - Sabotage important projects by distracting you or destroying the materials you need to complete your work

    - Forbid you from getting a job

    It could look like what happened to this redditor, where the abuse wore them down until they felt so hopeless that they quit their job:

    "He started by stealing cash from me. A little at a time, gaslighting me to believe I lost it.

    Then he used my 'only for emergencies credit card' my mother paid for, so that was relinquished.

    Then he emptied my bank account.

    When we got married, the bank account was in his name only. I had no access to it. No checks, no debit card.

    When I worked, he confiscated my paycheck, so I stopped working because what was the point?

    Then he put accounts in my name and didn't pay the bills, so not only was I penniless, but thousands of dollars in debt.

    When I left, I just had a suitcase of clothes to my name."


    Or financial abuse could involve someone trying to control every little detail of your budget.

    Couple arguing while looking at financial documents
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    In these situations, the abuser might:

    - Shut you out of financial decision-making

    - Put you on an allowance against your wishes

    - Demand that you hand over receipts for every single item you buy

    - Hold you to a double standard, where they can spend their cash like royalty but you're expected to scrimp and save

    - Take away your bank cards so you have to rely on them for money

    In this story from Reddit, the abuser cut off the victim's access to their own bank account:

    "When I was very young and in one of my first relationships, I had a very giving spirit and at first was very open to 'what's yours is mine.' Unfortunately, someone very manipulative and abusive (my ex-boyfriend) took advantage of that. He first began stealing my debit card out of my wallet when I was sleeping or showering and would go take care of his needs with my money while he was unemployed. When he did find a job, he was even more abusive at this point and kept my debit card from me and didn't allow me to have any access to my money at all, despite having his own bank account. The worst it ever got was him spending all my money, being unemployed, and not having any money for his rent. I was young, stupid, and devalued by abuse, so I showed my breasts for money for him to cover his rent. Fast forward years: He's unemployed again and sponging off of me. This time after taking a hiatus in the relationship and realizing how fucked it was, I ended it. He tried to emotionally manipulate me into letting him come back, but it didn't happen."


    Parents and family members can also be financially abusive.

    A young girl being lectured by her father
    Pollyana Ventura / Getty Images

    In these situations, the abuser might:

    - Ruin their child's credit by taking out loans and credit cards in their name and letting the debt go to collections

    - Misuse their child's student loan funds

    - Guilt a family member into working for free in a family business

    - Confiscate a dependent family member's pay from work outside the home

    - Steal from an aging parent or grandparent

    - Trick an aging parent into signing financial documents

    This redditor's story really drives home how devastating familial financial abuse can be:

    "I had worked for three years at a retail job and my mom would put the money in an account I had no access to. I'm visually impaired so I couldn't drive, and I didn't have a state ID at the time so I didn't have a checking account. Every time I brought up that I felt I should get a cut of my paycheck, my mom would start gaslighting me and talk about how selfish I am and how she should be charging me rent. Later on, I owed money to my college and asked about that account because I never took money out and neither of my parents told me about any activity. My mom said it was all gone and was 'used to pay my college,' which was absolutely untrue because I saw my annual income as well as the costs per semester for both my community college semesters as well as my public college. No one had asked for my consent while spending that money, but my mom was fine not asking me whether I had plans if work called and asked if I wanted extra hours.

    Yeah, I'm currently [in] NC with my parents. The sad thing is that there are so many worse situations than this that drove me towards that decision."


    And it can even occur within friendships.

    Financial abuse can be tough to pin down, because it can come in so many different forms, and it often starts in seemingly innocent ways that don't look problematic at first.

    A person opening an empty wallet
    Courtneyk / Getty Images

    Thomas explained, "The spectrum of financial abuse ranges from an abuser remaining chronically unemployed or under-employed, and the entire financial strain is upon one partner or family member. On the opposite side of the financial abuse range are individuals who cut off the victim from access to finances and create an environment where the victim is wholly financially dependent on the abuser."

    And just like in domestic violence, the abuse tends to start small and then escalate. It can begin with a few dollars missing here and there but end with ruined credit or even bankruptcy.

    Plus, the tactics that financial abusers use run the gamut from almost-ordinary couple stuff to actual criminal acts.

    A couple having an argument
    Johnce / Getty Images

    Another thing that can make financial abuse a little trickier to identify is the fact that some of these behaviors can look similar to arrangements in relationships that don't involve abuse. For example, if one partner in a relationship uses their income to pay all the bills or has an allowance, that's not necessarily bad. Couples often agree to these kinds of arrangements (as we saw when couples shared how they like to manage money in their relationships), and they can absolutely work.

    For any of these behaviors to really add up to abuse, they'll be present along with a power imbalance in the relationship and a pattern of disregard for one partner's desires and autonomy. So maybe your S.O. screws up and say, buys a motorcycle without talking to you first. BUT then they admit their mistake, pay you back, and it never happens again — that's not exactly abuse. However, if your partner has a habit of running up the balance on your credit card behind your back, you can consider that a great big red flag.

    Then on the other hand, you've got things like stealing, forgery, and identity theft that are clear-cut crimes. While it is possible to press charges, many victims sadly don't because of fear of retaliation and feelings of insecurity and self-blame.

    Though many statistics and studies around this topic focus on women, people of all genders and ages have experienced financial abuse.

    A person holding his head in stress at the ATM
    Violetastoimenova / Getty Images

    Additionally, people in all income brackets can be affected. As Thomas said, "Financially stable individuals could encounter an abuser who begins shifting all financial burdens away from themselves and onto the victim. For people who have limited access to resources, a perpetrator of financial abuse holds a tremendous amount of power over the victim." So while someone with more funds could get sucked into an abuser's whirlpool and wind up paying that person's bills, someone on the lower-end of the income spectrum might be more vulnerable to a financial abuser who uses having greater resources as a lever to control them.

    Financial abuse, much like other forms of abuse, is all about power.

    So what are the early warning signs of financial abuse, and how can you protect yourself?

    If you or someone you know is experiencing this type of abuse, there are resources out there that can help.

    Have you or someone you know experienced financial abuse? If you're comfortable sharing, tell your story in the comments.

    And for more on money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.