This article is sponsored by The Allstate Foundation.

On my podcast, So Money, we often discuss how money can be a powerful tool when managed wisely. Not only does it fund life’s necessities, but it also creates opportunities for personal growth, helping others and creating an impact in the world.

In a recent conversation on the show, however, we learned how money can sometimes be used against us, when, for example, a partner takes away our financial independence through abuse. It happens more often than we might think, and it has the ability to rob us of the life we dreamed for ourselves and our loved ones. 

Mercii Thomas bravely told her story of financial abuse on a recent episode of my podcast. It broke my heart to hear her talk about how she went from being a teacher and an aspiring yoga instructor to not even being allowed to hold a part-time job, all because of her controlling partner.

Fortunately, Mercii eventually broke free from this financial abuse and is rebuilding her life. Not everyone is so fortunate, but there are steps people can take and resources they can use to help protect against this kind of abuse. The Allstate Foundation is committed to that work.

Since 2005 The Allstate Foundation has empowered more than 2.5 million domestic violence survivors with education and tools to achieve financial independence. Their online curriculum, called Moving Ahead, is a free, five-part series. It helps people spot the signs of financial abuse, master the basics of their finances and then set and pursue long-term goals.

What Does Financial Abuse Look Like?

Physical abuse often comes with clearly visible signs, such as cuts and bruises. Financial abuse is much harder to spot, so it can be difficult for friends, relatives and bystanders to help. The Allstate Foundation provides six indicators that you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse:

Restricted spending: Many couples have one person who manages bills and paperwork. But if that partner demands receipts for every single purchase, restricts you to an allowance or even prevents you from purchasing necessities, this might be a sign of abuse.

Stealing: If your partner uses your money – whether cash, credit/debit cards, or checks – without your permission or knowledge, this might be financial abuse.

Account restrictions: Each couple decides whether to have joint or individual accounts. But if you are coerced into giving your partner your information, or you are locked out of accounts, this might be financial abuse.

Preventing employment: Mercii Thomas experienced this form of abuse. Her partner discouraged her from a temporary opportunity in another country and even a part-time job locally because it would take time away from their relationship. A partner who tries to prevent your employment or education could be engaging in financial abuse.

Planning exclusion: How involved are you in budgeting or financial planning in your partnership? You may want nothing to do with it. But if you are intentionally kept out of discussions, or you are told you don’t have a right to know, this could be financial abuse.

Creating debt: If your partner uses your name on financial documents without your permission – credit card applications or mortgages, for example – or if you are forced or threatened to make a purchase, you can be stuck with a lot of debt. This is a clear sign of financial abuse.

How Can You Help?

If you suspect that someone you know is dealing with financial abuse, you do have the power to help. The Allstate Foundation has suggestions for opening that conversation, and then the Moving Ahead curriculum – which is available in English, Spanish, French and Vietnamese – can help empower people to achieve financial independence.

Most importantly, know that with just this simple act you have the power to make a big difference in someone’s life – someone like Mercii Thomas.

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