Dear Penny: How Can I Hide Money From My Financially Abusive Mom?

A woman looks upset holding a stack of $20 bills.
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Dear Penny,

Help! I am currently living with my financially abusive mother, because I can't afford a place of my own. I want to stash my cash somewhere she can't access it, but I don't know where that would be. Can you help?

— Daughter in Limbo

Dear Daughter,

I’m sorry for the situation you’re in, but hopeful because you recognize your mother’s treatment as financial abuse and want to take steps to protect yourself. Your mindset puts you in a good starting position.

There are a few ways you can disentangle your finances and begin to build financial independence from your mother.

  • Open a separate bank account in just your name. As long as you’re 18, you can do this at any bank or credit union. If you have trouble getting to a local bank without her knowing, opt for an online bank account like Chime, Ally or Alliant Credit Union, which you can open without a minimum deposit or monthly fees. If you need an added layer of privacy, create a new email address she doesn’t know about to set up the account. Online accounts usually use two-factor authentication (2FA), so you’ll get a code texted to your phone anytime you (or someone else) tries to sign into the account. (This could be more secure than your typical bank’s security questions, which your mother might know your answers to.)
  • Deposit your income into the new account. If you have direct deposit from work, ask an HR rep how to update your settings. This would put your money directly into a bank account only you can access. If you’re dealing with hard cash, look for an account that lets you deposit it through an ATM you can get to easily.
  • Fund the new account with windfalls and other hidden money. Sometimes people experiencing financial abuse are also experiencing or at risk of other forms of abuse. If cutting off financial support for your mother puts you at risk, you could continue to give her access to some of your money while directing other funds she doesn’t know about into your new account. This could be your tax refund, student loan refund, bonuses from work or income from a side gig, for example. An HR rep might also be able to help you adjust your tax withholding so your paychecks are bigger, so you can direct a portion into the new account. If you’re concerned for your safety, connect with a victim advocate through the National Domestic Violence hotline or your local YWCA for more guidance.
  • Open a credit card in just your name. To expand the resources you have access to, open a credit card your mother can’t use. A starter credit card, like a secured card or a student card, is an option if you have low or no credit. You might rack up credit card debt, but it could make the difference in getting out of an abusive household (and you can always make a debt payoff plan later).
  • Freeze your credit. You can request a security freeze on your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion online. That prevents anyone from taking out credit in your name. Only you can unfreeze your reports, and you can do it anytime you want to apply for loans or credit yourself.

Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, author, speaker and personal finance journalist. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.