Victim Resource Center of the Finger Lakes Inc. 

    FINANCIAL FREEDOM

 
A great website with a financial calculator and  financial empowerment  information is: http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/.

To secure your credit report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com.  You can request your credit report once a year from each of the credit bureaus listed, but if you would like your credit score you will have to pay a fee.

 
Public Assistance is for emergency situations and should never be viewed as part of your long-term financial plan.  It is a tool to use when in crisis or emergency situations only.
 
1. Financial Abuse, Relationships and Diverse Perspectives

Financial Abuse: a tactic used to control relationships by preventing access to money or other financial resources.

Financial Abuse may include:
 
-controlling how money is spent

-withholding money

-withholding basic living resources, medication or food

-not allowing a partner to work or earn money

-stealing a partner’s identity, money, credit or property

Financial Goal Setting Strategies:

1.      Decide what you want to do with your money.

2.      Create a list of short-term goals.

3.      Create a list of long-term goals.

4.     Determine how much time you will need to meet your financial goals.

5.      Research your savings options.

6.      Review your progress monthly or quarterly.

Saving Strategies:

1.    Always pay yourself first. Place money in your savings account every month as if you were paying a bill. Investigate the convenience and safety of direct deposit.

2.    Start small and build as your situation changes. Regularly saving $10 a month will make a difference in your future. 

3.     A top priority should be the development of an emergency fund that equals three-six months of your living expenses.

Steps to move forward with regaining control of your financial life:

1.    Learn strategies for dealing with your financial fears.

2.   Complete a financial inventory or assessment of your resources, debts and other liabilities.

3.    Research your living costs.

4.   Identify and contact organizations in your community to learn how to apply for support.

5.     Develop a safety plan with assistance from your advocate.

6.     Create a financial safety plan with assistance from your advocate.

7.     Learn how to protect your privacy when using cell phones, email, and the Internet.

8.     Get copies of financial records and important documents.

Resources that may be available in your community, and that you may qualify for:

  • Emergency assistance funds
  • Emergency shelter
  • Temporary housing
  • Utility assistance programs
  • Food pantries
  • Job placement programs
  • Free or low-cost medical assistance
  • Education assistance programs
  • Childcare subsidies if you are working or attending school
  • Free or low-cost financial management services

How to stay safe before leaving an abusive partner:

· Dial 911 any time you or your children are in danger.

· Plan for your safety while in the relationship, and if you decide to leave.

· Gather and hide your photo identification, passport and social security card if you can do so safely.

· Write down your social security number and your partner’s social security number.

· Write down phone numbers for your utility companies and creditors.

· Write down credit account numbers or get a copy of your most recent credit statement.

The 7 most important documents to have when you leave:

1.      Photo identification

2.      Most recent bank statement

3.      Insurance contacts (e.g. car and health insurance)

4.      Vehicle registration, if you own a car

5.      Most recent tax records
 
6.      Original birth certificates for you and your children
 
7.      Social Security cards for you and your children

Strategies for moving ahead:

· Discuss the impact of your financial abuse and any additional challenges you might face.

· Talk with an advocate to learn about community resources, including emergency assistance funds, temporary housing, food pantries, job placement programs, educational assistance programs and more.

· Obtain copies of all important financial documents and records.

· Research your partner’s assets.

· Consult an attorney and provide him or her with as much data as possible if a divorce is likely, (e.g., tax returns, paycheck stubs and employee benefits).

· Remember: after the divorce you will be responsible for any joint debt that you and your partner incurred.

· Find an attorney with solid credentials using state bar associations, attorney referral services, domestic abuse victim service programs or personal recommendations.

· Review your health insurance coverage and consider extending your insurance through COBRA.

·  Research other health insurance options available in your community.

·  Work with an advocate to develop a financial safety plan and a strategy to protect your privacy when using cell phones, email and the Internet.

2. Financial Fundamentals

Survivor strategies for moving ahead:

·Make a list of your top three needs.

       -  Make a list of your top two financial concerns.

- Keep a financial journal as you go through the Moving Ahead through Financial Management curriculum and document your achievements. (This journal can help you decide which guidebook(s) to review.) The Victim Resource Center may be able to provide you with these materials.

-  Talk to your advocate about your needs and concerns and get suggestions about which guidebook(s) or resource materials will be host helpful to you.

Steps to create a budget:

Step 1 - Identify your net monthly income.

This is the money that comes into your household, after deducting taxes, social security insurance, etc.

Step 2 - Identify your monthly expenses.

Monthly expenses include rent and phone bills, food, gasoline, electric, water, and heating bills, as well as those that occur periodically, such as car insurance and medical expenses.

Step 3 - Subtract your monthly expenses from your income.

The difference between your income and expenses indicates whether or not you have any money to spare. If you have extra money, you’ll need to decide whether to spend or save it. Can you reduce expenses or earn more money to cover shortages? By distinguishing between needs and wants, you can better identify areas where you might be overspending.

Child support: financial support paid by a parent for a child or children if the parents are separated, no longer together, or divorced. Child support can be entered into voluntarily or ordered by a court or an administrative agency, depending on each state’s laws. Child support can include: medical support as well as the cost of insurance. 

Benefits of child support:

  • Child support may include healthcare coverage or payments toward medical expenses, as well as payments toward childcare expenses.
  • Child support may cover educational expenses, including tuition, fees, books and other supplies.
  • When paternity is established for children of unmarried parents, a legal relationship is established that may result in those children being eligible for future benefits from the other parent, including inheritance, veteran’s benefits, social security or life insurance.

Eligibility for child support:

  • At least one child for whom you are seeking support is under 18 years of age, in school or college, etc.
  • You are the child’s custodial parent or guardian.

How to get child support:

  • Work with your local child support enforcement agency.
  • Go to court on your own.
  • Hire a private attorney if you need to increase, decrease, enforce or terminate the payment of child support.

Office of Child Support Enforcement

Administration for Children and Families

Department of Health and Human Services

307 L’Enfant Promenade SW

Washington, DC 20447

1-202-401-9373

www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cse

Legal Services: many Legal Aid Societies and other legal services agencies have collaborative agreements with domestic and sexual violence advocacy programs to ensure the safety of victims. They provide legal services to victims who are unable to afford or access them on their own.

Legal services include:

§         Marital dissolution

§         Custody and visitation orders

§         Protection orders, including stalking orders

§         Immigration and legal status representation

§         Paternity and child-abuse matters

How to find legal assistance:

·     Your local domestic violence advocacy program - Victim Resource Center, (315) 331-1171

·       Your state domestic violence advocacy program

·       Your state domestic violence coalition

·       Your local Legal Aid Society

·       Your state bar association (attorneys)

·       National Organizations

·     Battered Women’s Justice Project, defense office at 1-800-903-0111 ext.3 or 1-215-351-0010

Strategies for Moving Ahead:

·        Taking control of your finances can be frightening. Face your fears by becoming informed, identifying worst-case scenarios and taking action.

·        Explore options for accessing child support, while addressing safety and privacy challenges.

·        Carefully assess your needs and wants and then develop a budget to help you manage your money. Identify your income and expenses and determine how to manage overspending and how to save more money.

·        Review your assets and liabilities to determine where you need additional support.

·        Review your credit report at least once a year and always before making a major purchase, such as car or house.

·        Review resources in your community that provide free or low-cost services to assist you and your children.

·       Be sure your housing expenses do not total more than 30 percent of your income.

·        Work with your advocate to develop a plan to 1. Eliminate or reduce your liabilities. 2. Access community resources to support you.

·       Develop employment and job strategies to plan for your financial stability and safety.

3. Building a Financial Base

Improving your credit:

·       Pay bills on time

·       Use your credit sparingly

·       Correct any mistakes

·       Pay off old debts

Getting a Loan:

·       Employment history - depending on the type of loan, most lenders look for one to two consecutive years of employment within the same industry. This shows employment stability and that you do not hop from one job to another.

·      Credit History - you must demonstrate that you can manage credit responsibly. Lenders look for a history of on-time payments.

·       Outstanding liabilities - the size of your income dictates the amount of liability you can support.

·       Cash and assets reserves - this is particularly important if you apply for a mortgage loan, as lenders may require that cash and liquid assets be available to pay at least two monthly mortgage payments.

Before you decide to file bankruptcy:

·       Reduce your spending: if you reduce spending you may be able to find the money to repay your debt.

·       Talk with your creditors: creditors are often willing to work out a payment plan to help you pay off what you owe.

·       Talk with a nonprofit counseling agency: these agencies can help you create a plan to handle all of your debts.

·       Talk to an attorney: expert advice can help you understand the consequences of declaring bankruptcy.

·       Consider debt consolidation: to pay your debt you may be able to borrow against your workplace retirement plan, stocks or other securities, or the cash-value of your life-insurance policy. Analyze the risk and consequences of this action thoroughly.

Strategies for changing your identity:

·         Find a place to live

·         Protect your new social security number

·         Protect your new information from public records

·         Establish a new credit history

·         Build your work history

·         Build education credentials

·         Illustrate proof of identity

·         Research address confidentiality programs

·         Use technology strategically

Protecting your personal information:

  • Become data savvy - be aware what information you are required to provide for financial transactions.
  • Find out about the data practices of your financial institution - know what information your bank, credit union or credit card company shares about you or your transactions.
  • Take the time to learn how your financial institution is protecting you - ask your financial institution about its data security and how it protects your personal information.
  • Read all privacy notices carefully - details about your personal information and who has access to that information is embedded in the small print.
  • Shred everything - all documents containing personal contact information or account numbers should be shredded.
  • Opt-out financial institutions must offer you the right to choose not to participate in their data-sharing processes with third parties.
  • Beware of email requests for your personal information - never give personal information in response to an email.
  • Change passwords and PINs often- use a password that’s a combination of letters and numbers.

Types of Identity theft:

1.     Account takeover: a thief acquires your existing credit account information and purchases products and services using the actual credit card or the account number and expiration date.

2.      Application fraud, also called true name fraud: when a thief uses your social security number and other identifying information to open new accounts in your name.

Victims of identity theft should:

·       Notify credit bureaus

·       Contact your creditors

·       Get a copy of your credit report

·       Report the crime to your local police or sheriff’s department

·       Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission

·       Call the Social Security Administration

·       Get a new ID or driver’s license number

·       Keep a log

·       If you are in the military, place an active duty alert on your credit report

Strategies for moving ahead:

·    Improve your financial situation by using banks or credit unions rather than payday lenders and check cashers.

·     Manage your credit so you will be eligible for credit at lower interest rates.

·     Develop a plan for managing debt and working with credit counselors.

·    Consult with a financial counselor before you declare bankruptcy. Declaring bankruptcy should be a last resort.

·     Be sure your housing expenses do not total more than 30 percent of your income.

·     Work with your advocate to identify traditional or federal housing opportunities in your community.

·     Understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and review the list of things to do before you sign a lease.

·      Explore the challenges of an identity change.

·      Guard against identity theft.

4. Creating Long-Term Financial Success

Types of savings accounts:

·       Interest-earning savings accounts - each month you’ll earn interest on your savings and receive a monthly statement online or in the mail.

·       Money market accounts - these accounts pay higher interest than savings accounts, but may require a minimum balance. You can usually make as many monthly deposits as you like, but you can write only three checks against the account each month.

·       Certificates of deposit - if you have monthly income that can be tied up for three months to six years, certificates of deposit will offer the highest interests rates, depending on the term you choose. There are still penalties for early withdrawals.

Invest your savings into:

·         Savings bonds

·         Mutual funds

·         Stocks

·         Bonds

Repairing your credit:

1.     Make a copy of your credit report and circle every item you believe is incorrect.

2.    Write a letter to the credit-reporting agency. Tell the credit-reporting company, in writing, the information you feel is inaccurate. Include copies of documents that support your position.

3.      Send a similar letter to the creditor you believe reported incorrect information.

4.      Send all materials by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof the information was received.

5.      The reporting agency will initiate an investigation by contacting creditors to verify the accuracy of the information.

6.      If the investigation reveals an error, you have the right to ask that a corrected version of your credit report be sent to everyone who received the report during the past six months.

7.      If an investigation doesn't resolve your dispute, ask that a 100-work statement of the dispute be included in your file and in future reports.

8.      Accurate negative information in your credit report generally stays on the report for seven years.

Types of insurance:

·   Auto insurance - can help you repair or replace your car if you get into an accident and help protect you in the event of a lawsuit.

·  Homeowner’s/renter’s insurance - pays to repair and replace your home if damaged or destroyed. Renters need insurance to protect their furniture and other personal property.

·     Life insurance - can help provide your family with a stable financial future.

·     Long-term care insurance - can help protect your family from medical costs in the event of a lengthy illness.

·     Disability insurance - provides a portion of income lost due to a total or partial disability caused by illness or accident.

Types of mortgages:

·       Fixed rate mortgages - the interest rate for a fixed-rate mortgage never changes, so the monthly principal and interest payment always stays the same, (if you plan to keep your home for a long time, this mortgage will likely save you money).

·       Adjustable rate mortgages(ARMs) - the interest rate for an adjustable rate mortgage changes along with the market rate, at daily or three-five-or 10 month intervals.

*ARMS are popular because they usually start with a low interest rate and low monthly payments. This can help qualify you for a longer mortgage, but you are not protected if the interest rate increases. This could double or triple your house payments!

·       Sub-prime or high-cost mortgages - these loans are for people with blemished credit. They have higher interest rates.

Educational and Training options:

·       The general educational development (GED) - a way to obtain a high school diploma. Most businesses, colleges and technical schools recognize the GED equivalent of a high school diploma.

·       On-the-job training - can be provided at the work site. Training ranges from a month to a year or more and is sometimes supplemented with classroom training.

·       Community colleges - provide associate degrees and the opportunity to transfer to a four-year college or university.

·      Trade or vocational schools - provide specialized training for many professions, including nurse’s aide, plumbing technician, heat, ventilation and air conditioning technician, truck driver, and more.

·       Certification programs - provide sufficient training to work in a specific profession. Some certificate programs are administered by the state, while others are offered by colleges, universities or professional schools. Many certification programs may require a college degree in addition to a standardized exam.

·       Online education - an alternative to trade schools, community colleges and four-year colleges, and universities. Most online education programs allow you to work at your convenience, as well as anywhere you can access a computer.

·       Four-year colleges and universities - grant undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees.

Strategies for moving ahead:

·     Don’t spend money to avoid feeling guilty or because you are afraid.

·   Establish a regular savings habit. Saving regularly is more important than the amount of money you save.

·    Learn about options for saving and investing your money.

·   Calculate how much you need to save for retirement and begin a savings strategy.

·   Implement an estate plan to provide financial and emotional stability for loved ones after you die.

·    Protect your assets by purchasing adequate health/medical, life, auto, rental/homeowners and other insurance coverage.

·    If you want to buy a home, work with a counselor to identify organizations that provide home buyer education.

·   Compare the terms and features of mortgages to eliminate predatory lenders and choose the one that is best for you.

·   Learn about education and training options that can help you qualify for greater job opportunities.

·   Explore options to pay for education and training, including financial aid or tuition reimbursement programs.

·      Establish a college savings program, including 529 plans, or prepaid tuition plans for your children’s education.

5. Financial Strategies for Immigrant and Refugee Women

Resources available to abused immigrants and refugees:

  • Crisis counseling and intervention programs
  • Services and assistance related to child protection
  • Adult protective services
  • Violence and abuse prevention
  • Services to victims of domestic violence or other criminal activity
  • Treatment of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Short-term shelter or housing assistance for the homeless, victims of domestic violence and runaway, abused or abandoned children
  • Programs to help individuals during periods of adverse weather
  • Soup kitchen
  • Community food banks
  • Nutrition programs and services for senior citizens requiring additional assistance
  • Medical, public-health, mental-health or substance-abuse assistance necessary to protect life and safety
  • Activities designed to protect the life and safety of workers, children or community residents
  • Nutrition programs and services for senior citizens requiring additional assistance
  • English as a Second Language Classes (ESL)

Protections available in the U.S.:

  • Protection Orders - available regardless of immigration status. They can serve as evidence for abused women who are seeking legal immigration status.
  • Abusive partners who violate protection orders may affect their own immigration status.
  • Divorce - abused immigrant and refugee women may be eligible to file for divorce in the U.S.
  • Access to immigration relief - the Violence Against Women Act offers options for relief and support to abused immigrant and refugee women. (Un)documented immigrants who are abused by a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can apply for some public benefits after filing a Violence Against Women Act Self-Petition or I-130.

Violence Against Women Act Self-Petition - contains provisions that allow abused immigrant and refugee women to flee violent marriages without being deported as well as providing the abused and refugee women with three forms of relief:

1.      Allows them to file petitions on their own behalf;

2.      Addresses the cancellation-of-removal relief, as it applies; and

3.     Clarifies that immigration authorities must accept “any credible evidence” submitted by an abused immigrant who is filing a self-petition or requesting a “battered-spouse waiver” if her abuser has filed immigration papers on her behalf.

Requirements for Violence Against Women Act Self-Petition:

·    Requirement 1: Spouse or child of abuser at the time of filing the self-petition.

·   Requirement 2: Self-petitioner’s spouse or parent is a U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident.

·    Requirement 3: Self-petitioners reside in the U.S. with the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

·   Requirement 4: Self-petitioners must have resided in the U.S. with the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident in the past.

·     Requirement 5: Battery or extreme cruelty.

·     Requirement 6: Good moral character.

·     Requirement 7: Extreme hardship.

·     Requirement 8: Applicant married in good faith.

Other avenues are the U-Visa if the police have been called and you are willing to participate in the prosecution of the perpetrator, and the T-Visa for Trafficking victims.

 Safety Planning Tips:

  • Contact a local domestic violence hotline for information about laws, shelters and other resources. Alert advocates to any language, cultural or religious needs.
  • Identifying your support systems by listing people who could possibly help you, including family members, neighbors and advocates at shelters.
  • Prepare a suitcase with important items and documents. Hide the suitcase or keep it at another location with a trusted friend or relative.

Important information to collect:

  • Copy of protection order
  • Immigration papers
  • Identification for you and your children (i.e., photo identification, social security cards, passport or student identification)
  • Love letters, marriage license cards, family photographs with you and your husband (these will show proof of your relationship with your partner)
  • Papers that show you have lived in the U.S. (i.e., utility bill, lease or mortgage payment book)

Strategies for moving ahead:

  • Review the signs of abuse list to determine whether you are experiencing financial abuse or other forms of abuse such as domestic, sexual, or stalking violence.
  • Research community assistance programs, which help all people including undocumented immigrants or refugees.
  • Learn about protections offered by the U.S. legal system, including protection orders and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) relief options for battered immigrant and refugee women.
  • Collect important documents, including copies of protection orders, immigration papers, identification for you and your children and more.
  • Develop a plan to ensure your safety (see Safety Plan this website).