Financial security and access to resources is the number one predictor of whether domestic violence victims will stay in or leave an abusive relationship. And insurance is an important component of financial planning that helps survivors prepare for a better life. To mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here are a few financial strategies for anyone who is leaving or has left an abusive situation.
1. Secure Your Financial Records
These documents include your birth certificate, driver's license, passport, bank account and credit card information, insurance policies, etc. Keep these documents with a trusted family member or friend, or obtain a bank safety deposit box. Also, set up a P.O. Box to conceal all of your important mail from your abuser. This is essential to prevent identity theft or damage to your credit. Change your ATM and debit card PIN codes, as well as your online banking and email passwords. It is particularly important to close any joint banking or credit card accounts before you leave, in case your partner racks up charges. Remember that as long as there is an outstanding balance on a joint account, both parties are responsible for payment. You can also contact the Social Security Administration if you need to obtain a new Social Security number (SSN).
2. Know Where You Stand Financially
Knowledge is power, and it is critical that you understand where you stand financially. That means knowing your main sources of income, bank account balances, property owned and debts owed. If your spouse or partner has had control of the family finances, do you know if your bills—including the premiums on your insurance policies—have been paid? A lapsed policy or unpaid credit-card bill could create financial problems down the road, so try to learn as much as possible about your financial position when you are leaving an abusive situation.
3. Build a Financial Safety Net
Once you have a good idea of your financial picture, you are in a better position to plan your exit. You know what assets and liabilities you are dealing with and can begin envisioning how your life will be on your own. Begin with estimating your income and expenses to see if the money you earn right now will allow you to meet your basic needs. Also, start a savings plan and create an emergency fund so you have a safety net if things get difficult financially once you leave.
4. Make Necessary Changes to Your Insurance Plans
: If you plan to take a car with you when you leave your abuser, you will need to get separate auto insurance coverage immediately. And if you buy a new car, you should purchase a new auto policy before the car is registered .Make sure you are removed from any joint auto policies as that may protect you from possible liability if your former partner is involved in an accident and gets sued. Keep in mind that moving to a different area or to a different state, or changing from a secondary to a primary driver on a vehicle can affect your auto policy rates.
: Unfortunately, if a life insurance policy on your own life is payable to the abuser, and you do not own the policy, you cannot change the beneficiary. However, if you do own the policy, you have the right to change the beneficiary, and probably should. With group insurance through your employer or an association, you can also change the beneficiary. When your beneficiary is a child or an elderly parent who has or could develop cognitive difficulties, they most likely will be unable to file a death claim on their own. So you should be careful to designate a guardian whom you trust to file the claim and use the money to care for your beneficiary.
If you have children or other dependents who would be affected financially by your death, it is important to get your own life insurance as soon as possible. Opting for term life insurance, which provides protection for a specific period of time, typically offers the greatest amount of coverage for the lowest initial premium cost and can make buying enough coverage affordable.
5. Maintain Good Credit
Having a good credit report is going to be essential when it comes to starting your new life, as it can help you more easily rent an apartment, get a new credit card and get better rates on your insurance—it can even affect your ability to get a job. The best way to keep your credit intact is to start making changes as soon as you have reached the decision to leave your abuser. Take care of your current debts and avoid missing any payments. Alert creditors if there is a change of address so that bills will continue to be received from all joint accounts and no late fees are incurred. Remember, women who drop their husband's name and use their maiden name will not erase the credit history established under their married name, as it is tied to social security numbers, not names. Establish a new credit record under your own name, especially if all previous credit was held jointly with your spouse. In order to expedite this process, consider turning existing joint credit cards, gas cards and retail accounts into individual accounts. Doing this will mean not having to re-establish your credit should you file for a divorce.
Source: Insurance Information Institute
Published with permission from RISMedia.