Hundreds of thousands of Aussie wives are trapped in violent relationships or loveless marriages because their husbands or partners are in charge of their finances.
The phenomenon is known as 'sexually transmitted debt' and Take 5 has uncovered research showing it affects a staggering 16 per cent of women, many of them from disadvantaged families.
So we've teamed up with Bauer Media Finance Editor, Commentator and Financial Literacy Campaigner Effie Zahos to launch Financially Fit Females, a campaign to help Take 5 readers take back control of their cash.
Effie told us many women can face poverty in their later years if their partner racks up big debts or refuses access to money.
Wives are often left oblivious to how much their husband spends on booze or payday loans and it all adds up, leaving them out of pocket when they reach retirement.
"Women are just as much a part of our economy as men," Effie said, "but many have a poor understanding of important financial issues.
The way a woman deals with savings, superannuation, separation and divorce can be the difference between living a financially comfortable life or not."
Shockingly, 85 per cent of women don't fully understand their own finances, according to a major Australian study last year, leaving them vulnerable if their relationship goes sour.
According to Effie, when a man forces his partner to agree to a dodgy investment or loan, it's a form of abuse.
"That's why Take 5's campaign is so important. It'll give simple advice that will make a real difference."
Over the coming weeks, Effie will answer your questions and help our readers understand their finances, either to make their lifestyle more comfortable or help them break free from a troublesome relationship.
We spoke to two Take 5 readers who have faced their own financial crises.
Tears wet my cheeks as I sat on the side of the road.
It was 1am and I'd just walked in on my husband with another woman in his apartment.
Of course something like this would happen, I thought, mascara running down my face.
Suddenly, I looked up to see a police woman.
"Would you like to come to the station for a cuppa?" she asked softly.
There, I expected her to ask me what was wrong.
Instead, she handed me a mug and said, "You deserve to be loved, you deserve to be respected and you deserve to be happy."
I felt a pang in my heart.
She didn't know anything about my situation but her words resonated with me so much.
I'd spent 22 years trapped in a physically and mentally abusive relationship.
I'd wanted to leave my husband every minute of every day but I couldn't work out how.
He was a doctor and had complete control of everything, including our finances.
I was a hairdresser and had limited education. I didn't know the first thing about money or how to manage it.
I couldn't see how I could support myself and my two girls without my husband.
I didn't even have a bank account.
But the officer's words ignited a fire in me.
When I finally opened a bank account, got my affairs in order and left, I was a broken woman.
I had to learn how to pay bills, support myself and trust that I could do it all.
I started reading books on money management, attended free self-development classes, then enrolled in university and started studying counselling as I was working full-time in the salon.
Now, I'm in complete control of my life and my finances.
I've opened my own business, married a wonderful man and never been happier.
To all the women who can relate to my story; you're stronger than you think and you can do anything.
I was thrilled when my partner and I welcomed a son, then a daughter.
I took leave from my job as a teacher and my partner took care of the bills.
We bought a derelict house and halfway through the renovations, decided to try for a final child – it was twins!
It meant I'd spend more time out of work and my partner continued to take care of everything financially.
But soon our relationship crumbled and it was clear we needed to part ways.
I couldn't get a job, as the kids were still too little and I hadn't worked in years.
I couldn't secure rent on my own without an ongoing income.
I felt trapped and forced to stay in the relationship until the kids got older.
But I don't know how I'd do it differently.
Price of fun
Question: I was horrified to be charged $768 for my kids playing an online game on my mobile – little buggers. Now I'll be hard-pressed to pay this month's rent. Is there any hope of a refund? Kate, 42, Cairns, Qld.
Effie says: My 13-year-old did something similar. I had a conversation with him and put boundaries in place, ensuring he was educated about spending online. Keep credit cards in a safe place and consider putting a limit on it for gaming.
As for a refund, I'm afraid I don't like your chances (unless you're claiming fraud), but having chatted to a bank about your situation, if it means you find yourself in financial difficulty, your card issuer could help. According to St. George, they've assisted customers in overcoming financial challenges, freezing interest or working out alternative payment arrangements for families in this same situation. Your card issuer may review your interest rate, term extension, or reduced or suspended payments. It's worth a call.
Are prizes taxed?
Question: My son won $4000 at the trots and reckons he has to declare it to the tax people. I've told him they'll just want to grab half of it. Do you have to declare winnings? I hope not as I won a fridge last year. Pat, 59, Dubbo, NSW.
Effie says: Good news, Pat, you don't need to declare prizes won in lotteries and raffles, however, any interest earned on this money would need to be declared. If, however, you won something in a prize draw or lottery run by your bank, you must declare that on your tax return. Not sure how common it is for banks to be giving away prizes, though. More info on declarations can be found here.
Question: My foot doctor's sister, Cheryl, works for a bank and said I should claim my super to clear my debt. But the lady at the tea shop reckons that's wrong. Should I trust anyone who gives free financial advice? Vanessa, 49, Elizabeth, SA.
Effie says: According to moneysmart.gov.au there are very limited circumstances in which you can access your super before you reach your preservation age. They include incapacity, severe financial hardship, compassionate grounds or if you have a terminal medical condition. Even these come with terms and conditions.
Cheryl may think your case falls under financial hardship, but it always pays to be cautious. Without knowing your debt, I'd say to call your credit provider first and suss out your options, as early release of super has consequences to retirement long-term.
Question: My teeth are shocking, but I can't afford to get them fixed. My two young boys aren't much better and I've told them I won't be able to fork out for their dental visits soon. What can I do?Sharon, 38, Colyton, NSW.
Effie says: Have you heard about the Child Dental Benefits Schedule? This federally operated scheme is open to families who receive Family Tax Benefit A, and provides $1,000 worth of dental care per child over two calendar years. It can be used to pay for things like check-ups, X-rays, cleaning, fillings, root canals and extractions.
If you don't use the full amount during the two-year period, the remainder can becarried over to the following year, if you're still eligible for Family Tax Benefit A.
Am I being ripped off?
Question: There are so many gas and electricity companies offering different plans; how the hell do I know if I'm being ripped off? Paula, 48, Wollongong, NSW.
Effie says: Energy Made Easy is a great website to help you compare energy providers. Some offer "fixed" rate contracts that usually run for two years, but that also means taking a gamble on how power prices will move in the future. Shop around but watch out for fees that may apply if you choose to bail out early.
Question: I have two young kids and have to get a bigger payday loan each month. My husband hasn't worked since he lost his leg and I do so much overtime, it's killing me! Terri, 51, Girraween, NSW.
Effie says: There's a lack of competition in the short term loan market, which is why payday lenders continue to thrive. Most charge a 25% establishment fee and a four per cent monthly fee. So, a $1000 loan over three months could cost $320 extra. There are alternatives; Speckle, a not-for-profit provider, is roughly half the price. I'm not a fan of payday loans but do understand the need for occasional help. If it's a bill you can't pay, approach your provider as most offer extensions, discounted rates or concessions. Try calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 if you feel your money woes are getting out of control.
Will afterpay save the day?
Question: I'm hopeless with money and my kids have hidden most of my credit cards. I recently saw something called Afterpay at a shop, which would mean I can buy something and then pay it back when I get my fortnightly pay. Is it a trap and does it cost you more? Debbie, 49, Deception Bay, Qld.
Effie says: Debbie, your kids sound wonderful! Looking after their mum's finances will benefit the whole family. Afterpay doesn't charge interest; you pay for your purchases over four equal instalments, due every two weeks. Late fees of up to $68 can apply but because you say you're not good with money, I fear your biggest problem here is that Afterpay will tempt you to spend more than you should, putting more pressure on your cash flow. You'd be better building up a spending fund to splurge with.
What's our super worth?
Question: My husband and I are both 55 and have always made super payments. We plan to retire at 65 to travel Oz, visiting unusual churches. But I have no idea how much money we'll have. I'm worried we'll be broke. Greta, 55, Welshpool, WA.
Effie says: Super Guru is a great website that can help you understand how much money you need for a comfortable retirement. You can always contact your superfund, too, as most offer free limited advice. They should be able to help you workout how much super you'll have in retirement based on your current contributions.
Visit our campaign website,www.financiallyfitfemales.com.au for information on how YOU can take back control of your money.
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