What is Financial Abuse?

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When people think of domestic violence, they typically only consider physical abuse. But domestic violence includes taking away another’s autonomy and control of their lives. Financial abuse is one way people control others.

Financial abuse occurs in 98% of abusive relationships. It’s the most common reason people stay in abusive relationships, but most people don’t recognize it as a form of domestic violence.

Types of Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can also be helping oneself to another’s finances without controlling the relationship. It can consist of financial control, economic exploitation, and employment sabotage.

Financial Control

It’s easy for people to write off financial abuse because they see one partner caring for another. For example, a husband works outside of the home, providing most of the income, while the wife stays at home caring for the home and their children. The wife believes she’s lucky to have a partner who is such a wonderful provider, but he controls all the finances. Bank accounts, the home, cars, and other items are all in his name. He tracks every penny spent, making her feel shame when she needs or wants something. This financial control is a form of abuse.

Economic Exploitation

Economic exploitation may be the most damaging type of financial abuse. When economic exploitation occurs, the abuser intentionally destroys their partner’s credit and financial resources. They open lines of credit under the victim’s name or don’t pay bills that are in the victim’s name. They may even blow money from shared accounts but save their own.

In these cases, the victim may not have access to the accounts. They may not even know they exist. Their credit score is ruined, making it almost impossible to get a car, take out loans, rent a home, or flee the abusive situation.

If the victim can leave their abuser, economic exploitation may affect them for years or even decades. They may have to fight bankruptcies, pay off debts, or even experience tax liens. Victims spend years trying to dispute identity theft. Victims may have to file police reports in some cases, making their information public and allowing the abuser to find them.

Employment Sabotage

Employment sabotage is a method abusers use to keep their partners from having access to money. Abusers find reasons to keep the victims from working, such as saying it’s more financially sound for them to stay home and care for the children or elderly parents. Abusers may also sabotage the victim’s employment by showing up at their workplace or preventing them from attending important meetings or completing required projects.

They may push the victim so hard that they quit their job. For those unemployed, the abuser finds ways to keep them from finding gainful employment. Either way, the victim becomes entirely financially dependent on the abuser.

Warning Signs of Financial Abuse in a Relationship

Like other forms of domestic violence, financial abuse is about exerting control over another person. The perpetrator may feel they’ve earned the money or are somehow owed it.

Abuse isn’t limited to specific genders or relationships. Vulnerable adults, people with disabilities, or seniors can be targets of financial abuse. Financial abusers position themselves as caregivers, helping vulnerable adults care for themselves. They act like a friend but siphon money from the victim.

Identifying as a victim of abuse may be challenging for some. Indicators you or someone you care about may be a victim of financial abuse are:

  • Control of Credit Cards – Does someone else control your credit cards or other accounts in your name, including when or if they are paid on time? Do they use your credit card without permission?
  • Anger When Spending –  Does someone make you feel guilt or shame for spending money on needs or how you spend money you have earned?
  • Career Control –  Does someone control what job you have, how often you work, or even if you work?
  • Hidden Money – Does your partner have money hidden from you?
  • Secret Spending – Does someone spend your money or large sums of joint money without discussing it with you?
  • Income Control –  Does someone control how you spend your money? Or do they question how you spend your money? Do they insist you share your income but are unwilling to share theirs?
  • Provided Allowance –  Does someone give you an allowance and doesn’t allow you access to other money?
  • Uniformed Expenses –  Has someone signed your name on a financial document, loan, or check without your expressed consent? Have they made themselves your power of attorney without your knowledge?
  • Hiding Debt –  Has your partner taken on a large debt and hidden it from you?
  • Lack of Help –  Does your partner refuse to contribute financially?

Getting Help and Overcoming Financial Abuse

The journey back from financial abuse can be challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some ways to recover financially:

  • Talk to Someone You Trust –  Talk to someone who won’t leak information to the abuser or a friend of the abuser. A trusted person could be a friend, counselor, case manager, etc.
  • Develop a Plan – Develop a safety plan with the trusted person and establish a code for if a situation arises and authorities need to be contacted.
  • Keep Records – Document every violation, including date, time, amount, etc., and store it in a location the abuser doesn’t have access to.
  • Gather Documents – Gather essential documents such as social security card, driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, etc. as well as essential documents for children. If the abuser controls access to essential documents try to get pictures or other digital copies.
  • Cancel Accounts – Cancel all joint accounts even though your credit score will take a hit. It will keep you from going deeper into debt in the long run.
  • Start Fresh – Open a new bank account and change online passwords. Ensure the new account paperwork isn’t sent to a location the abuser can access. Don’t access accounts on shared devices or linked internet service providers.
  • Get Financial Education – Many private, public, and nonprofit organizations help individuals learn about managing finances and financial planning, getting out of debt, and building credit.
  • Track Your Credit – Register for free credit tracking services even when not in a relationship. It’s essential to know if someone uses your credit for any reason.
  • Freeze Your Credit – Freeze your credit to keep anyone from opening new accounts in your name.
  • Seek Professional Help – Get help from credit services, authorities, attorneys, and mental health professionals. Financial abuse is a crime. Report it to your local police department.

Financial abuse can happen to anyone, but you can take steps to prevent or overcome it. When taking these steps, make sure you aren’t at risk of harm if the abuser finds out. Everyone deserves to feel safe. The journey to financial recovery can be a long path, but it’s possible.

If you or someone you know may be in a financially abusive relationship, use All Counseling’s directory of mental health professionals to provide the assistance you need.


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George, Dana. “How to Overcome Financial Abuse.” The Ascent, The Motley Fool, 20 May 2020, www.fool.com/the-ascent/banks/articles/how-overcome-financial-abuse/. Accessed 24 May 2022.

Smith, Kelly Anne. “3 Warning Signs of Financial Abuse—and How Victims Can Recover.” Forbes Advisor, Forbes, 21 Oct. 2021, www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/signs-of-financial-abuse-domestic-violence-awareness/. Accessed 22 May 2022.