Personal Finance

After Domestic Violence: How to Rebuild Your Finances

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The statistics pointing to the role of economics in domestic violence cases are simply staggering. A recent Mary Kay Foundation survey found that 74% of female domestic violence victims have stayed with an abuser for economic reasons, 45% have lost their jobs, 36% have lost a home or car, and 62% of survivors said they could not find jobs due to the economy.

According to a survey of women’s shelters, 80% will seek governmental or other financial assistance in the year following their shelter stay.  And in another particularly disturbing recent trend, 62% of shelters saw an increase in younger women (aged 12-24) seeking safety.

While these stats can certainly paint a dismal picture, there are economically empowering actions you can take as a domestic violence survivor that cost nothing or very little when the time comes to:

  • Rent a home
  • Apply for a job
  • Buy a car
  • Obtain utility service
  • Open a checking/savings account

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First, when embarking on any of these actions, it’s important to have a clear understanding of your current credit picture as a starting point.  To do so, you’ll need to know how to contact the three U.S. consumer reporting agencies (CRAs):

Next, regardless of the above action or the specifics of your situation:

  1. Check your credit reports at all 3 CRAs for errors and possible ID theft by going to www.annualcreditreport.com for your free annual credit reports.
  2. Check the credit reports of any of your minor children for ID theft by contacting the CRAs.
  3. Contact the CRAs to place a fraud alert or freeze your credit reports if your credit has been used without your authorization.
  4. Immediately close all credit cards held jointly with the abuser to prevent any additional charges.
  5. Begin to build your own credit history by taking out a secured credit card or personal loan in your name.

Some general advice for survivors about to encounter some of these critical life events where economic empowerment is sure to make a difference:

Check Your Credit For FreeRenting

You should expect the landlord to check your credit — either your credit report or your credit score or both.  Unlike qualifying for a mortgage, however, a prospective landlord has much more leeway in terms of credit requirements, and can be more understanding of extenuating circumstances than a mortgage lender can.  If there are late payments on your credit report, don’t worry, but do everything you can to bring any currently late payments and unpaid collections up to date.  If you can’t, still don’t despair, but be prepared to provide an explanation for any negatives and, to the extent possible, include documentation that can provide some context to your current situation.

[Related Article: The Ultimate Credit Report Cheat Sheet]

Job application

Beware of some misinformation that’s been published recently about the role one’s credit history plays in employment background checks — both in terms of credit reports and credit scores.  While it’s true that some employers often include credit information in background checks, they only see an abbreviated version of your credit report and scores are not used in employment.

Auto

Whether you finance a car with a loan or lease, or even if you pay by check, your credit report and score will likely be obtained by the dealer/lender.  Here, your credit score plays an important part, as the interest rate and monthly payment of an auto loan/lease will largely depend on your score. You can get your FICO credit score, the one used by most auto lenders, at www.myFICO.com.

Utilities

While utility companies don’t usually report your account history to the CRAs, they often use your credit rating to determine the amount of deposit to require.  Utilities also send unpaid utility bills to collection agencies that report to the CRAs.  If you have any unpaid utility bill collections, it will be important to pay them before applying for new utility service.

Bank account

Increasingly, banks are consulting your credit report and ChexSystems before opening checking and savings accounts.  Reasons for this include a Patriot Act requirement to protect against terrorism and to protect the bank against risk from bad checks and overdraft abuse.

For more information about domestic violence, visit www.NNEDV.org, the website for the non-profit National Network to End Domestic Violence.

[Credit Cards: Research and compare credit cards at Credit.com]

Image: ghetto_guera29, via Flickr

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