Abuse comes in many forms. Physical, sexual and verbal abuse get plenty of headlines, but have you heard of financial abuse? Would you recognise it if it happened to you? Financial abuse can be more subtle so doesn’t get as much airtime as the others, but can be incredibly distressing. Here’s what you need to know about it.
WHAT IS FINANCIAL ABUSE?
Financial abuse is when a person controls your access to money or property without your consent or manipulates your financial decisions.
It can happen to anyone, regardless of how much money you have. Women are particularly at risk because they are less likely to be financially independent.
Research by CoreData in 2016 found three in five women in a relationship are vulnerable to the risk of financial abuse. The study found 60.5 per cent of women in a relationship did not have any assets held in their own name. This figure was even higher for women in Queensland, at 72.2 per cent.
Financial abuse is considered a form of family violence under the Family Law Act.
The warning signs of a financially abusive relationship are not easy to spot, but recognising them could help you avoid becoming a victim.
Is someone limiting your access to bank accounts, using your credit card without permission or controlling how you spend your money? Are they preventing you from working or studying? Perhaps they’re refusing to contribute to household expenses, acquiring debts in your name or selling something you own without permission.
This kind of behaviour is often associated with a wider pattern of anger, verbal abuse or violence.
HOW TO GET HELP
The impact of financial abuse can be devastating. As well as a loss of money and independence, it may leave you feeling lonely, depressed or anxious.
If you think you or someone you know could be in a financially abusive relationship, it’s important to get support. Talk to a trusted friend or family member, and seek professional help from a counsellor or psychologist.
Support is also available through organisations like 1800 RESPECT, Relationships Australia and Lifeline. For a list of support numbers and other resources, visit the Australian Government’s MoneySmart website.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FINANCIALLY WHEN MOVING IN TOGETHER
Moving in with a partner is an exciting time. You’ve decided to take the next step in your relationship and that’s something to celebrate. But it’s also a good time to ensure you’re protected financially if something goes wrong.
Talk to your partner about key financial decisions such as where you’ll live, how your assets will be managed and how you’ll pay for things like groceries, utility bills and rent or mortgage payments. Discuss your values and goals, spending styles (there are ‘savers’ and ‘spenders’), what you both have and owe. Make it hard to financially cheat one another by regularly sharing this information.
Don’t rush into getting joint bank accounts, credit cards or loans. You could be held liable for these. While eyeballing each other’s bank or credit card statements isn’t a bad thing, you should never share logon details.
Keep track of your finances by checking your bank statements regularly and see a financial adviser for an annual financial health check. Maintain an ‘emergency fund’ that’s yours and only yours. It’s a sum of backup money that you can use if the relationship goes sour and you need ‘out’, or you lose your job and have bills to pay.
Update your will to ensure your personal wealth is protected.
Despite the increasing independence of females in Australian society, research suggests that for many women, financial stability remains linked to their partner. Women who take control of their financial situation are less at risk of financial abuse.
Being financially independent has other benefits, too. It will boost your confidence, and allow you to spend money on the things you enjoy without feeling guilty. The more ‘intimate’ you get with your finances, the more motivated you’ll be to stay on track and set yourself up for financial success.
Give yourself peace of mind by staying in control of your finances – whether or not you’re in a relationship. Your future self will thank you.
Courtesy of the Women’s Agenda Daily Update newsletter, dated 6th August. Contributed by Helen Baker, a licensed Australian financial adviser and author of On Your Own Two Feet: Steady Steps to Women’s Financial Independence. Her latest book is On Your Own Two Feet Divorce: Your Survive and Thrive Financial Guide. Proceeds from the books’ sales are donated to charities supporting disadvantaged women. Find out more at www.onyourowntwofeet.com.au
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are an older person, the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit might be able to help – telephone number 1300 651 192.