How to Identify Financial Abuse in a Relationship

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When most people think of domestic abuse, the first thing that comes to mind is likely verbal abuse and physical assault. But research shows that financial abuse occurs just as frequently in unhealthy relationships as other forms of abuse.

In fact, a study by the Centers for Financial Security found that 99% of domestic violence cases also involved financial abuse. What's more, financial abuse is often the first sign of dating violence and domestic abuse. Consequently, knowing how to identify financial abuse is critical to your safety and security.

What Is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse involves controlling a victim's ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources. Those who are victimized financially may be prevented from working.

They also may have their own money restricted or stolen by the abuser. And rarely do they have complete access to money and other resources. When they do have money, they often have to account for every penny they spend.

Overall, the forms of financial abuse vary from situation to situation. Sometimes an abuser may use subtle tactics like manipulation while other abusers may be more overt, demanding, and intimidating.

In the end, the goal is always the same—to gain power and control in a relationship.

While less commonly understood than other forms of abuse, financial abuse is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a victim trapped in an abusive relationship. Research shows that victims often are too concerned about their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children to end the relationship. Plus, financial insecurity is one of the top reasons women return to an abusive partner.

It's important to note that while most people often, incorrectly, assume that women are the only victims of abuse in a relationship, men can be victims of abuse as well. Considering the fact that financial abuse is recognized as a form of domestic violence,approximately 1 in 7 men (18 years and older) will experience a form of domestic violence.

Impact of Financial Abuse

The effects of financial abuse are often devastating. Victims feel inadequate and unsure of themselves due to the emotional abuse that accompanies financial abuse. They also have to go without food and other necessities because they have no money.

In the short-term, financial abuse leaves victims vulnerable to physical abuse and violence. Without access to money, credit cards, and other financial assets, it's extremely difficult to do any type of safety planning.

For instance, if an abuser is particularly violent and the victim needs to leave in order to stay safe, this is difficult without money or a credit card. And if they need to leave the relationship permanently, it is challenging to find safe and affordable housing. They also struggle to provide for basic needs like food, clothing, and transportation.

For those who do manage to escape an abusive situation, they often face extreme difficulties in obtaining long-term housing, safety, and security.

Victims often have spotty employment records, ruined credit histories, and mounting legal issues caused by years of financial abuse. Consequently, it's very difficult for them to establish independence and long-term security. In fact, many victims stay with or return to abusers due to concerns about financial stability.

Tactics Used

Overall, financial abuse is very isolating because victims often become financially dependent on their abusers. This financial dependence traps them in the relationship. Without resources, they are unable to see a way out of their situation.

If you're in a relationship, it's extremely important that you can identify financial abuse before it escalates and you're stripped of your credit history and employment opportunities.

Below is an overview of the way financial abuse is perpetrated. Some abusers may use all of these tactics while others may only use one or two. Regardless of whether the abusive person is using one tactic or 10, it's still considered financial abuse. Here are some ways in which people are abused financially.

Exploiting Your Resources 

When a dating partner or spouse uses or controls the money you have earned or saved, they are exploiting your resources.

Here are some examples of this exploitation:

  • Trying to control your use of or access to money you have earned or saved
  • Using your assets for their personal benefit without asking
  • Taking money or using credit cards without permission
  • Ruining your credit history by running up limits and then not paying bills
  • Claiming to make payments or pay bills in your name but not following through
  • Borrowing money or making charges without repaying it
  • Feeling entitled to your money or assets
  • Demanding that you turn over your paycheck, passwords, and credit cards
  • Expecting you to pay for their bills or their obligations
  • Using offers to help with your budget or financial decisions as a cover for gaining control over your finances
  • Requiring you to bail them out of difficult financial situations​
  • Confiscating your paycheck or other sources of income
  • Intercepting or opening your bank statements and other financial records
  • Threatening to lie to officials and claim you are "cheating or misusing benefits"

​Interfering With Your Job 

When a dating partner or spouse attempts to control your ability to earn money or gain assets, they are interfering with your income potential. Here are some examples of job interference.

  • Criticizing and minimizing your job or choice of career
  • Pressuring you to quit your job—sometimes even using children as an excuse
  • Telling you where you can and cannot work
  • Sabotaging your work responsibilities
  • Harassing you at work by calling, texting, or stopping by
  • Preventing you from working by hiding your keys, unhooking your car battery, taking your car without permission, or offering to babysit and then not showing up

​Controlling Shared Assets and Resources

When a dating partner or spouse has complete control over the money in the relationship and you have little or no access to what you need, this is controlling the family resources. Here are some examples of controlling shared resources and assets.

  • Criticizing every financial decision you make
  • Reducing your freedom to plan or budget
  • Making large financial decisions without your input
  • Refusing to collaborate on finances
  • Hiding or taking funds and putting them in a private account
  • Insisting you share your income but refusing to share theirs
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Controlling the “purse strings” or establishing unrealistic limits or allowances
  • Requiring you to account for every penny you spend (may even ask for receipts and change)
  • Having a double standard when it comes to spending (they may spend money on entertainment, dining out, and clothing but criticize you when you make similar purchases)
  • Withholding financial information such as account passwords, account numbers, and investment information
  • Limiting your access to the overall financial picture as a couple
  • Withholding money from you or requiring you to ask for money
  • Demanding that you ask permission before spending money but not consulting you when they make purchases
  • Requiring that large, joint purchases be in their name only (such as car loans, mortgages, cell phones, or apartment leases)
  • Limiting your access to money by not allowing you to have bank accounts or credit cards
  • Forcing you to sign financial documents without explanations
  • Making threats to cut you off financially when you disagree
  • Becoming enraged over money and then engaging in other forms of abuse like name-calling or physical violence
  • Evading or refusing to pay child support
  • Dragging out divorce proceedings in order to cripple you financially

​A Word From Verywell

If you suspect that your partner or spouse is financially abusive, contact an advocate, a counselor, or a religious leader right away. Financial abuse is not something that gets better with time. In fact, it often escalates and can lead to other types of abuse.

If you do not have a counselor or religious leader who can help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates. The key is to address financial abuse right away.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Adams AE. Measuring the Effects of Domestic Violence on Women’s Financial Well- Being. Center for Financial Security. University of Wisconsin-Madison. 2011.

  2. Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Financial Abuse.

  3. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Men Can Be Victims of Abuse Too.

  4. Howard M, Skipp A. Unequal, Trapped & Controlled: Women’s Experience of Financial Abuse and Potential Implications for Universal Credit. Women’s Aid. 2014.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.