Know the signs

About financial abuse

What is financial abuse?

The following material on financial abuse has been provided by the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. It includes tactics that limit a survivor's access to assets like cash, credit lines, and vehicles. And it also includes limiting a survivor's access to economic opportunities through employment and education.

In some cases, financial abuse is present throughout the relationship and in other cases financial abuse occurs when the survivor attempts to leave or has left the relationship.

Financial abuse, while less commonly understood, is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship and deeply diminishes the victim’s ability to stay safe after leaving an abusive partner.

Research indicates that financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases. Surveys of survivors reflect that concerns over their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children was one of the top reasons for staying in or returning to an abusive partner. As with all forms of abuse, financial abuse occurs across all socio-economic, educational, racial and ethnic groups.

The short- and long-term effects of financial abuse can be devastating. In the short-term, access to assets like cash, credit lines, and valuables is critical to staying safe. Without assets, survivors are often unable to obtain safe and affordable housing or provide for themselves or their children. Longer-term, damaged credit scores, sporadic employment histories, and legal issues caused by financial abuse can make it difficult for survivors to gain independence, safety, and long-term security.

What does financial abuse look like?

The following are descriptive examples of financial abuse, which can be triggering and upsetting to read:

Sabotaging income and employment

  • Forbidding the victim to work.
  • Stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose her/his job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews.
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities.
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay.
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income.

Controlling access to assets

  • Controlling how all of the money is spent. Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions.
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts.
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance.”
  • Hiding assets.
  • Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine.
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for misusing benefits.

Theft, fraud, and coerced debt

  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns.
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts.
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score.
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets.
  • Filing false insurance claims.
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property, or inheritance.

Wondering if your relationship has become abusive? 

Determine if you might be at risk by completing assessments in part 1 of our resource guide, "Understanding if it's abuse"

Go to toolkit

Additional information

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About domestic abuse

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Read answers to questions frequently asked by survivors who have experienced domestic and financial abuse.

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