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Is your spouse or partner a financial bully?

Maxine Browne is seen in an undated photo.

January 13, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Does your spouse or partner maintain control over your credit cards or keep track of all your purchases? It could mean you live with a financial bully.

Maxine Browne is thrilled to be in charge of her own credit cards, checking account, and her cash, because for years she said she had "no access to money whatsoever."

Browne says her husband controlled all their cash and credit. But she says his money monitoring started slowly.

"When you get married, you add this person to your accounts. So that's what I did. And then he said, 'I can do the banking for you,'" said Browne.

But it escalated. Eventually, she says her husband took over everything, including which groceries she bought and the amount of gas in her car.

"When you control all of the money, you really do control the movement of everyone in the household," said Browne.

A Credit Karma survey reveals that Browne is not alone. One in 10 people classified their significant other as a "financial bully."

Therapist Rachel Sussman says squabbling over money happens, but when it becomes bullying, it's destructive.

"I've seen several instances where the bully, who is generally a very insecure person, tries to trap their partner in the relationship by taking away all their power around money," said Sussman.

So how do you recognize a financial bully? Look out for warning signs. For example, your partner restricts access to credit cards or demands receipts for everything, including groceries.

Sussman says the biggest red flag is if you find yourself changing your behavior to please your partner or hiding things from your partner.

But bullying is not about wanting to keep to a budget or a spouse trying to get their partner to stop overspending. It's about each person having a stake in their financial health.

"If I say to you, 'How is your financial health?' And you say to me, 'I have no idea. My spouse is in charge of that,' you have put yourself at risk," said certified financial planner Kathleen Sachs.

You are at risk because if something happens, or you two split up, you'll be at a huge financial disadvantage. You need to know what bills are owed each month, how much debt you owe and how to access bank accounts.

"There's a lot of power in communication and even saying to your partner, 'I won't take this anymore.' If that produces good results, great. If it doesn't, get some counseling, and if that doesn't work, get out of the relationship," said Sussman.

That's what Browne did. She says now she controls her money and values every cent.

"I cannot walk past a coin on the street without picking it up," said Browne.

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