How to avoid financial bullying

CREATED Mar 24, 2014

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Maxine Browne is thrilled to be in charge of her own credit and debit cards, her checking account, and her cash, because for years she explains, "I had no access to money whatsoever."

Maxine says her husband controlled all their cash and credit.  It started slowly Maxine recalls.  "When you get married, you add this person to your accounts. So that's what I did, and then he said, 'I can do the banking for you.'"

Eventually, she says her husband took over everything, including which groceries she bought, and the amount of gas in her car.

"When you control all of the money you really do control the movement of everyone in the household," Maxine warns.

A Credit Karma survey reveals Maxine is not alone:  One in ten respondents classified their significant other as a 'financial bully'.' Relationship therapist Rachel Sussman, who consulted on the survey, says squabbling over money happens in many relationships, but bullying is destructive.  "I've seen several instances where the bully, who is generally a very insecure person, tries to trap their partner in the relationship by taking away all their power around money."

So how do you recognize a financial bully?  Sussman says it's important to look out for warning signs:

- Your partner limits your spending or your access to credit cards
- You partner refuses to let you go shopping alone
- You find yourself changing your behavior and hiding things in order to please your partner

Certified financial planner Kathleen Sachs said something couples should ordinarily do is make sure they each have a good understanding of their money.

"If I say to you how is your financial health and you say to me, 'I have no idea my spouse is in charge of that,' you have put yourself at risk," Sachs explains.

At risk because if something happens to your partner, or you split up, you'll be at a huge financial disadvantage.  Sachs warns make sure you always know your financial basics, including, what bills are owed each month, how much debt you owe, and how to access the bank and retirement accounts.  Experts say if you don't know the answers, speak up. 

"There's a lot of power in communication and even saying to your partner, 'I wont take this anymore.'  You know, if that produces good results, great.  If it doesn't, get some counseling and if, if that doesn't work, get out of the relationship," Sussman suggests.

That's what Maxine did. She says now she controls her purse strings, and values every cent.  "I cannot walk past a coin on the street with out picking it up."

The Credit Karma survey also found the percentage of men and women who report being financially bullied is almost equal.  There's a quiz to help you determine if you're dealing with a financial bully.