How to Rebuild Your Finances After Financial Abuse

Quick Answer

The first step to financial recovery after abuse is to lock down all your accounts and to make sure the abuser has no access. Then you can consider strategies for paying off debt and rebuilding credit. Finding an ally to walk through it with you can help.

A woman frowns as she looks at her laptop while she lays down in bed.

You can rebuild finances after financial abuse by blocking off access to your accounts, freezing credit, consulting a trustworthy financial adviser and using community or government resources designed to help.

Financial abuse happens when someone uses money to control you or takes advantage of a relationship to steal from you. They may deny access to money, hide money, secretly run up debt or sabotage a job. Financial abuse can be part of a pattern of abuse in a relationship of partners. The elderly are especially vulnerable to it. In that case, it may be a family member or caregiver the victim depends on who steals benefit checks or otherwise takes control of money.

Even before you begin to assess and address the financial damage, it's crucially important to make sure you are safe. After that, lock down credit and accounts so that no more damage can be done. Here's what to do to begin to recover from financial abuse.

Secure Your Accounts

For all your email, social media and financial accounts, immediately change passwords and set up two-factor authentication. Your new passwords should be complex and should not contain words or dates that the abuser could guess. A password manager can help you keep track.

You'll want to be able to access your accounts but it's just as important to be sure that the person who abused you financially is locked out of those accounts. (If you had joint accounts with your abuser, you may want to get legal advice about how to separate accounts.) If your financial institution offers additional protections, take them up on it.

If your abuser is an authorized user on any of your credit accounts, call credit card issuers to have them removed. And if you are an authorized user on their accounts, you may want to have yourself removed. (A counselor can help you decide.)

Keep account numbers and other information used for identification safe. Social Security and Medicare numbers are especially valuable to those looking to exploit your finances.

Finally, if you believe your abuser is likely to intercept postal mail, you can have it forwarded to a different address. It might also be a good idea to run a scan for keystroke-tracking malware an abuser may have installed on your devices.

Set Up Fraud Alerts or Freeze Your Credit

Fraud alerts are created at the credit bureaus and let lenders know that a credit application submitted in your name warrants extra scrutiny. They're easy to put in place; setting up a fraud alert with Experian will automatically cause an alert to be created with Equifax and TransUnion—the other two major credit bureaus.

A temporary fraud alert stays on your credit for two years, and it can be extended. Extended fraud alerts, which last seven years, are available to victims of fraud when they provide a copy of their police report or identity theft report.

Alternatively, a credit freeze makes your credit report inaccessible to potential new lenders for applications for new credit. That will stop you or anyone else—with certain exceptions—from using your information to establish new credit accounts. Credit freezes have to be put in place (and thawed) with each of the three credit bureaus individually, so they are less convenient than fraud alerts. They can be temporarily lifted when you want to apply for credit. (You can still check your own credit if a credit freeze is in place.)

Monitor Your Accounts

Check credit, bank and investment accounts regularly to be sure there is no unauthorized activity. Again, be sure that you have changed the password (and to one your abuser cannot guess), and set up alerts so that you get an email or message about activity you specify. Alerts you might consider include:

  • Single transaction alert
  • ATM withdrawal alert
  • Profile change alert
  • Debit card use alert
  • Unusual activity alert
  • Large purchase alert
  • Low balance alert

You may not want to sign up for every alert available, but those alerts can help you determine when someone uses one of your accounts without your permission.

You can also monitor your credit. It's free, and it can give you a heads-up if someone applies for credit in your name. You can also check your credit reports to be sure your creditors are reporting your activity accurately. Experian offers a free credit report that updates monthly.

Work on Your Credit Score

Consistently making on-time payments is a good first step toward getting your score back in good shape. Your payment history is the most important factor in your FICO® Score , which is used by 90% of top lenders. Other important factors include your credit usage and the length of your credit history.

If you have not established credit in your own name, you can use Experian Go™ to create a credit file and start your credit journey. If you've used credit in the past but your scores aren't where you'd like them to be, using Experian Boost®ø to add bills you pay regularly, including utilities, cellphone or subscriptions, could help you raise your credit scores.

Find an Ally

A counselor affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling can give you money advice you can trust. If you want help with budgeting or simply someone to look over your plans, you can find it there. If financial abuse was part of a larger pattern of abuse, you can check the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to find programs in your state. Depending on the type and degree of abuse, you may need temporary housing, a job or support to file criminal charges.

The Bottom Line

Financial abuse can take away your confidence in your ability to manage your life and finances. But there are steps you can take to rebuild your life and your finances. Separating your accounts from those of the person who abused your trust and keeping that person from being able to access them again are crucial. Then you can begin to monitor the accounts, work on your credit and come up with a plan to address any debt. Experian's free credit monitoring can help you spot identity fraud more quickly and also let you track your credit score as you recover.