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Are You Experiencing Financial Abuse?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified  

Financial abuse occurs in many relationships. It can persist in romantic relationships, friendships, and family relationships. The impact of financial abuse can be devastating, and therefore it’s important to be aware of the signs of financial abuse so that you can protect yourself.   

To determine whether you are experiencing financial abuse, consider whether these situations describe your own:

  1.       You have limited or no access to your financial information. As an adult, you should have unrestricted access to all of your financial information. This includes the past and current activity of all financial accounts that are either solely in your name or combined with another person. These accounts can include checking or savings accounts, 401(k) and other retirement accounts, investments, assets, and all other places where money or valuables are held. Think of it this way: financial institutions are legally required to provide this information to you, so therefore no one in your personal life should be able to prevent you from accessing this information.
  2.       You don’t have control over your money. As an adult, you should have the opportunity to control your finances. If you decide that you’d like others to have joint control, you should still be able to participate in decisions and/or relinquish control if necessary. You should be consulted regarding financial decisions and have the opportunity to provide or deny consent. Financial infidelity is a term that describes a situation in which someone (usually a romantic partner) hides or steals money from you. This is an example of you not having control over your money.
  3.       You have limited or no access to your funds. As an adult, you should have access to your money. You should have your own debt or credit cards, PINs, internet passwords, or other tools to use funds at a moment’s notice. If you have joint access, then you should consult with the other party in order to make financial decisions.  If you struggle with overspending, it’s wise to have a plan in place, but that plan shouldn’t include ceding access to your money entirely to another party.
  4.       Your name is not legally connected to your assets. As an adult, financial accounts and legal claims to assets such as deeds and titles that you funded should be connected to your name either solely or jointly. Sometimes we place assets in one person’s name because they have better credit or an establish financial history, but there needs to be a legal way for your name to be connected with such assets, for otherwise you could lose your investment.
  5.       Your accounts are unpaid. Any financial accounts that are in your name and are unpaid will negatively impact your financial future, not the future of others whose names are not connected to these accounts. If your accounts are not being paid, you need to be aware and be a part of this decision. If someone else’s accounts are being prioritized over yours, this may be financial abuse. Remember, you will be held accountable for all the debt associated with the accounts in your name.
  6.       You’re pressured to make financial decisions. People can provide you with advice and feedback, but you need to feel comfortable with your own financial decisions. If you feel pressured to make decisions that benefit others, take a moment to consider whether this is something that you truly want.
  7.       You’re threatened with financial ruin. This occurs when someone uses finances to manipulate or intimidate you: If you leave me, you’ll have nothing. If you don’t do X, I’ll cut you off. Threats are a clear sign of financial abuse.
  8.       You are not allowed to earn money or your ability to earn money is sabotaged. If you are able and willing to work, you should be allowed to do so if you wish. Someone who prevents you from earning your own money may be trying to control your access to money.
  9.       You’re a minor, and you know too much. As a child (anyone under the age 18), you shouldn’t know everything about your parent’s financial situation, especially if the family is struggling. Too much information can have a negative impact on children and cause them severe anxiety about their family’s financial survival, something that a child cannot control or fix. When these children become adults, they are more likely to struggle with financial anxiety.

Financial abuse is serious, and it occurs more often than you think. If you are experiencing financial abuse, consider participating in individual, couples, family, or financial therapy. Symmetry Counseling provides all of these services and has clinicians who specialize in financial therapy.

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