Dear Priscilla Bennett Friends:
Here are five tips you can use to organize your finances:
1. Gather Documents. Try to have access to shared accounts. Compile PIN codes, passwords, copies of credit reports, print-outs of any financial records or bank accounts, birth certificates for you and your children, your driver’s license, Social Security number and tax records. You can contact the IRS for copies of jointly-filed tax returns and banks for copies of jointly-held account statements.
2. Set Up Your Own Accounts. If you can set up accounts safely, open a bank account in your name and have statements delivered electronically to a friend or family member’s address or P.O. box your abuser does not know about. Start your own credit life to build your own credit history.
3. Accumulate cash reserves. You’re going to need money when you leave. If possible, stash away some cash in a safe place other than a bank—a trusted friend or family member’s house, place of employment or in a safe deposit box your abuser doesn’t know about.
4. Change Beneficiaries on Your Accounts. For individual insurance plans like health or life insurance and accounts such as a 401K retirement account through your place of employment, you should change your beneficiary to someone other than the abuser. For jointly held policies and accounts, both parties will need to be privy to the information if the beneficiary is changed. Speak to a lawyer about how best to handle that. You should be able to find free lay legal counsel through your local domestic violence nonprofit.
5. Make a Budget. Planning your finances ahead of time can save you a lot of worry when it is time to go. Figure out how much you’ll need to live on, make a list of possible expenses and then make cuts where needed.
After you leave, you’ll want to hide your financial activity from your abuser. For accounts and credit cards that are yours alone, change your PINS. If you’ve opened up an individual savings account, put your assets there so the abuser can’t access them. You may also want to see if your state offers the Address Confidentiality Program.
To repair credit history ruined by the abuser, pay your bills on time. Building your credit is slow and tedious, and only you can do it.
In my novel SOMETHING TO BE BRAVE FOR, Katie hides pocket money, part of her allowance and whatever else she could find in her art books. Claude had no interest in her books, so it was safe. Little by little, she saved up enough to pay for a divorce lawyer and organized an escape plan that would set her and her daughter free.
Take good care of yourselves,
PRISCILLA BENNETT XOXO