A safety fund is money you set aside to cover the costs of staying safe wherever you are on your journey. For someone living with their harm doer, a safety fund can help pay for things like a secret cell phone to increase access to support. For a survivor who recently left their harm doer, a safety fund can help cover day-to-day costs such as food and transportation.
Safety funds can be empowering, especially when incorporated into a solid safety plan. Though it takes extra planning, most people choose to hide their safety fund from their harm doer to avoid retaliation.
Types of safety funds
One option is to open a checking account at a bank or credit union where your money will be protected and insured. Checking accounts give you the ability to use checks, get money from ATMs using a debit card, and get money from bank tellers.
- Enables you to avoid carrying and stashing cash, which can be lost or stolen
- Checking accounts make it possible for you to pay off credit cards
- Most financial institutions will let you create a safe word that needs to be said before any personal information is shared on the phone or in person
- Banks and credit unions are not allowed to disclose who does or does not have an account with them
- Most banks will require you to provide your residential address and will send mail to verify the address
- If someone knows all of the following information about you, they may be able to access your consumer bank report: full name, date of birth, social security number, and current address. This report may include the names of financial institutions you have applied to open a checking or savings account with in the last five years
- If you earn more than $10 in interest from your checking account, you receive a 1099-INT tax form. This can be a concern for people filing joint taxes with a harm doer
- When choosing a checking account, pay attention to account fees like "overdrafts," which occur when you make a purchase that exceeds the amount of money you have in your checking account. Not paying fees can impact your ability to open a new account at a bank or credit union for seven years. Additionally, it can result in your bank or credit union appearing on your Consumer Bank report
- If you have a negative banking history or a low credit score, you might be limited to secured checking accounts, which require you to pay an upfront “security deposit.” This means you’ll have to pay a sum of money to open the account, which will only be refunded to you when the account is closed
- Checking accounts for the most part won't affect your credit score. An exception would be if you overdraft your account, and the bank contacts a collection agency to collect the amount you owe
A prepaid card (sometimes called a prepaid credit card or a prepaid debit card) allows you to store and spend money without a bank account. You can load money directly onto the card and spend up to that total amount. Money can be loaded at places like ATMs, participating stores, or online.
- Prepaid cards don’t require a credit check or bank account to use
- Prepaid cards can be bought in stores and used anonymously, which can help protect those living in abusive situations
- You can use a prepaid card anywhere that accepts debit cards, giving you access to places that don’t take cash, like online stores
- Prepaid cards can also be used to withdraw money from ATMs, and you can arrange for paychecks to be directly deposited to the card
- You’re not taking out any loans or using credit, so this can also be a good option if you don’t want to go into debt
- For most cards, loaded funds are protected by federal deposit insurance or zero-liability policies
- There are many predatory prepaid cards out there. Prepaid cards can have numerous fees, which can be hard to keep track of and quickly deplete the money you've loaded onto the card. These include ATM, activation, inactivity, reloading, customer service, and monthly service fees. Make sure to carefully review all card fees
- Prepaid cards can be more secure than cash because many can be reported stolen and offer fraud protection. However, debit and credit cards tend to offer better fraud protection, in addition to property protection
- Prepaid cards will not help you build your credit history. If you feel safe opening a checking account and applying for a credit card, a good alternative to prepaid cards is a secured credit card, which can help you build credit
If it isn’t safe or suitable for you to open a bank account or get a prepaid card, another option is to keep a money stash (sometimes called “money under the mattress”), which is cash you keep hidden in a safe location your harm doer doesn’t know about.
- If you live far from an ATM and will need to pay for things in cash, a money stash can help ensure you can make purchases in an emergency
- With a money stash, you don’t have to worry about ATM fees, prepaid card fees, and account minimums, which allows you to keep more of your money
- Cash cannot be traced, which can provide reassurance that you harm doer will not discover purchases made using your money stash
- Keeping your safety fund as cash makes it extremely vulnerable. If anything happens to your money stash, such as being robbed, there is no way to recover your money. Alternatively, money kept in an FDIC-insured bank or NCUA-insured credit union is insured for up to $250,000 per person
- It can be easy to lose track of your money stash, especially if you have multiple hiding spots with differing amounts. This approach makes it hard to know how much you have saved and to ensure no one has stolen from your safety fund
- If you need to flee from your home unexpectedly, you may not have an opportunity to safely access your money stash
- If you live with your harm doer, consider if there’s a place outside of your home where you can keep your money stash. Do you have a trusted family member or friend? A safety deposit box? Or perhaps a Venmo or PayPal account?
- If you have a highly trusted family member or friend, consider letting them know the location of your money stash, so they can access it for you in the event of an emergency or if something happens to you
You know what’s safest for you. Trust your gut! And if you’re not ready to create a safety fund or begin saving, that’s okay. We hope that by describing the benefits and risks of different safety funds, we’ve helped you understand your options and given you constructive ideas.