Whether you’re married or cohabitating, every partner should protect themselves from financial abuse, says blogger Jennifer Nelson. Here are six ways to ensure you don’t get financially hurt by your partner.
Amanda has to show shopping receipts to her husband each week. Stephanie’s spouse often changes the credit card password so she can’t access the statement. Dan’s wife racked up debt on credit cards she took out in his name.
You may think these are examples of deceitful relationships, but this is actually financial abuse. A 2014 Allstate Foundation survey, commissioned by FTI Consulting, found 65 percent of respondents don’t believe their family or friends would know if they were in a financially abusive relationship, and only 39 percent of women have taken steps in their relationship to protect themselves from financial abuse.
Additionally, according to a 2016 Centsai survey, 30 percent of Millennials say they’ve been financially hurt by a partner.
Yet prevention of financial abuse is so much more valuable than learning how to recover from it, says Constance Dierickx, PhD, psychologist and author of the forthcoming book, High Stakes Leadership.
“I think the warning signs for abuse of any kind—whether financial or not—is being controlling,” says Dierickx. Any monetary behavior where one partner tries to control the finances, keeps the other partner from accessing accounts, takes out credit fraudulently, runs up credit cards, or even asks for money repeatedly can be a financial red flag.
Prevention includes recognizing the behavior and questioning it. For instance, if my sister, brother, or friend came to me with a wacky story about needing money, a cosigner for a loan, or racking up huge debt, would I think they were full of crap?
“When romance gets involved, it gets a lot trickier,” says Dierickx.
Other signs someone may be financially abusive include getting angry easily, being unreasonable, or making fun of how the other person earns money. For example, mocking your partner at a party (e.g., “My husband, the big shot attorney”; “My wife is going to make us ‘rich’ with her children’s books”) could signal insecurity that leads to financially abusive behavior.
Whether you’re married or cohabitating, every partner should protect themselves from financial abuse. You cannot hide your Social Security number if you’re married (since they’re on joint tax returns), but there are important ways you can protect yourself.
1. Have an exit plan. “You wouldn’t enter into a business without an exit plan. While we can insure ourselves for death and disability, there’s no way to insure yourself that you won’t be [financially] abused with the exception of talking about it,” says Pam Friedman, CFP®, CDFA, author of I Now Pronounce You Financially Fit: How to Protect Your Money in Marriage and Divorce. You must be willing to discuss what will happen in the event of a breakup. Each of you must fully disclose what you have financially, what your expectations are, what you consider separate and joint assets. Everyone should be on the same page about how they will be treated, not by the law, but by a person who has moved on from the relationship.
2. Think about a pre-nup or a no-nup. While many Grownups are familiar with a pre-nup, a no-nup is a living together agreement for couples who are not married. Though most Millennials may not have much to protect yet, if you do, having a contract with someone that says, hey this is mine. This is always going to be mine, the growth of this is mine is imperative. It might be a house, an investment account, an IRA—but protect any assets with a this is mine, this is yours
3. Watch your credit rating together. So you ensure no credit is being taken out behind the scenes, subscribe to a site such as MyFico and monitor both your credit reports. Stealthy credit requests “would be an immediate alarm,” says award-winning financial advisor Barbara Delaney, founder of StoneStreet Advisor Group. Increases to credit limits, new loans and credit cards, and inquiries for new credit go on your report and can alert you that your partner has taken out credit. If you’re both monitoring, there are no surprises.
4. Negotiate the household. “Negotiate things like child care duties upfront, and talk about careers once you have children,” says Friedman. Issues like who is going to keep working and who is going to take some time from work for child care responsibilities needs to be discussed so you both value your partner’s role. The one who makes less money or takes time off for child rearing is worth just as much or more as the main breadwinner. “But everyone’s idea of fairness is different,” says Friedman. You need to be in the same financial dinghy, rowing in the same direction, with respect to these important financial issues.
5. Keep some mad money. “I strongly believe that people should have some money of their own—a little pile of money so if you want to do something you can do it, and it’s not household money,” says Dierickx. “People who aren’t married should not comingle all their money, and if you are married and comingling, have separate accounts with some money of your own.” Your partner should not have the power to make off with all your savings or mad money.
6. Work jointly together. “Women, particularly Millennials, have seen their parents or friends’ parents go through a rude awakening financially,” says Delaney. Think about it: Do you know a woman who got a financial shock, whether she was a stay at home mom, let her spouse do the finances, widowed and didn’t know anything about the money until afterward, or half of a divorcing couple who didn’t play nice financially?
Millennials are much wiser about credit, savings, and knowing their finances. Work jointly on financial goals, communicate regularly, and be transparent about what’s going on.
“The important point is for people to value their financial independence so if something goes wrong, you could restart your life. You can take the first steps to get back on your own without moving into your parents’ basement,” says Dierickx.
Jennifer Nelson is a Florida-based journalist who writes about lifestyle and financial health topics for outlets like Forbes, Today.com, and AARP.
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