Moving in together? Tips for being financially safe

Maybe you’ve just graduated and you’ve decided to look for a place to live with your partner. Or maybe you’ve been dating for a while, and moving in together seems like a good next step. For many people, living with a partner is a way to learn more about each other, as well as a practical decision to help ease cost of living (splitting the rent, anyone?). But this situation can also be an opportunity for a partner to become more controlling and financially abusive.

Financial abuse occurs when when a person controls or exerts any level of power over their partner using money and finances. Like all forms of abuse, it can happen to anyone at any time. But, if you have a lot of new financial responsibilities, and you’re sharing expenses with a partner for the first time, it might be especially difficult to recognize the warning signs.

Even if your relationship is relatively healthy, it’s important to discuss how you and your partner will handle finances and household responsibilities, ideally before you move in and begin living together. Communicating about money should be just like communicating about any other topic in a relationship: honest, open and respectful. People can have complicated feelings about money and different spending/saving styles, but it’s important that each partner feels informed and comfortable with how the finances are handled, and like they have a voice in any financial decisions that could affect them.

If you’re considering moving in with your partner, you might want to discuss the following:

Paying for bills/expenses

Shared expenses should be divided in a way that all partners agree is fair, whether that means they’re divided equally or proportionally to income. Have a discussion with your partner about total shared monthly expenses and the best way to pay for them. Be sure to note who will be responsible for making sure bills are paid on time so that you don’t incur penalties or late fees, or you might consider setting up automatic payments if that’s an option.

Combining or keeping finances separate

Some people choose to keep their finances in separate accounts, some choose to combine their finances, and some choose to have a single joint account they use to pay bills and shared expenses. You and your partner should decide what works best for your relationship, but each person should have equal access to any shared accounts. However, you do not have to share personal passwords or give your partner access to your personal accounts.

Are you seeing red flags?

Do you think your partner might be financially abusive? Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Refusing to pay their fair share of bills
  • Refusing to allow you access to shared financial accounts
  • Racking up credit card debt in your name
  • Not letting you work or go to school, making you feel guilty for working, or limiting how much you work
  • Sabotaging your job (for example by stalking/harassing you at work)
  • Insisting that all accounts and contracts be in your name (therefore putting all liability on you), OR
  • Insisting on taking care of everything while you hand over access to your accounts, which gives them control of money and distances you from the day-to-day financial activities
  • Giving you an allowance and closely watching what you buy
  • Placing your paycheck in their account and denying you access to it
  • Hiding or stealing your student financial aid check or other outside financial support
  • Using your social security number to obtain credit without your permission
  • Using funds from a shared account without your knowledge
  • Spending money on themselves but not allowing you to do the same
  • Giving you presents and/or paying for things like dinner and expecting you to somehow return the favor
  • Using their money to hold power over you because they know you are not in the same financial situation as they are
  • Using finances to control your other behaviors, such as cutting off credit cards when you do something they don’t like

On a final note, it’s always a good idea to educate yourself about finances, even just the basics, so that you can feel empowered to make decisions about your own money. We’re not financial experts at loveisrespect, but there are a ton of personal finance blogs out there (like The Financial Diet and Get Rich Slowly) that can help.

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