Just-married guide to changing your name on credit cards
Marriage brings plenty of change, and for many women (and a few men), the first one is your name. But change isn’t always easy, and switching your name on credit cards, Social Security cards, bank accounts and various other bills is no exception.
According to a 2015 analysis conducted by the New York Times, approximately 70 percent of women change their surname after marriage. Another 10 percent are hyphenating their maiden name with their husband’s.
Here’s the skinny on the proper way to change your surname so that your credit and charge card accounts are up to date and reflect the same name you have on file with your financial institutions, the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration.
5 steps to changing your name
1. Take your marriage certificate to your local Social Security Administration office. Fill out and print (available here) a new form for an SSA card with your new name. Once an SSA agent approves the documentation, your new Social Security card will arrive in the mail within four weeks. Don’t leave your marriage certificate with the SSA agent. If you are a man who is changing his name after marriage, however, you may have to hire a lawyer, as some states require a court hearing, petitions and fees before a man is allowed to adopt his wife’s last name. Contact your county’s department of public safety or county courthouse to find out if your state allows a name change for men after marriage without legal wrangling.
2. Call your utility company or cellphone company and get one or two bills immediately changed to reflect your new last name. You can usually do this by phone. If they need proof, provide a copy of your marriage certificate. It will take at least one billing cycle before the bill reflects your new name. When it arrives, keep one with you in case you are asked for additional proof of your name change in the coming months.
Think security when changing your name
- In the age of identity theft, changing a name on your credit card accounts is surprisingly and, some say, disturbingly easy.
- To protect yourself against ID theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommends against using common security questions such as your mother’s maiden name to help secure your account but suggests using passwords instead.
3. Update your bank accounts. You probably will be asked to provide a copy of your marriage certificate. If you use direct deposit, be sure to inform your employer of your new name. If not, your check might be delayed in being deposited to your bank account. Order new checks and new bank debit and credit cards as well.
4. Head to your local department of motor vehicles once your Social Security card arrives and change your name on your driver’s license or state identification card. In some states, you can do this with just your marriage certificate and Social Security number. In other states, you may have to bring additional documentation -- such as a utility bill or bank statement -- reflecting your married name. (By now, you should have at least one bill or bank statement with your new name.) Here are the marriage laws by state, along with county clerk offices’ telephone numbers, in case you have any questions.
5. Call, write your credit card issuers, or visit your online card account and request a name change when your driver’s license (or state identification) and financial accounts reflect your new name. While you can begin this process earlier, it’s best to wait to change the name on your credit cards until you have matching identification and financial institution information. That way you can avoid any credit card processing, billing or payment errors or mix-ups.
What exactly you will have to do to request a name change will vary by issuer. For example, three issuers surveyed by CreditCards.com – Discover, Navy Federal Credit Union and Macy’s -- give newly married cardholders two options: Call your card’s customer service number or visit your online card account and submit a request there. Other issuers, such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America, require cardholders to physically bring their photo ID and marriage license to a bank branch.
To change your name on your accounts, take your updated photo ID and an original or a certified copy of your marriage certificate into your nearest Wells Fargo location, says spokeswoman Natalie Brown. “We will copy and retain it, update our records and your signature card with your new name. We will also send you a new debit card and/or credit card.” Call your card issuer to find out exactly what their card name change process is.
A word on shared credit for newlyweds
Sometimes spouses will have credit accounts with the same issuers. However, getting married and changing your name doesn’t automatically join those accounts. Most issuers won’t merge accounts simply because you get married, but they do offer the opportunity to cancel one card and add the spouse as an authorized user on another card.
For example, here are the options Macy’s store cardholders have, according to company spokeswoman Jean Coggan:
- A new spouse can be added as an authorized buyer on a card account, which would allow him/her to shop and the credit history would be reported to the credit bureaus.
- A new spouse can be added as a joint holder, which requires that individual fill out some additional paperwork and provide a copy of his or her ID.
- Newlyweds can have two accounts – one individual and one joint – so the existing cardholder would not necessarily have to close his or her individual account.
- Newlyweds can also apply for a joint account and keep both individual accounts open.
Experts recommend keeping credit accounts separate if your spouse is your credit opposite, that is, with one spouse having a much higher than the other. We offer cards suitable for your credit score, ranging from Bad to Excellent. However, if you want to help your spouse get a better credit score, consider adding him or her as an authorized user on an account. That way, they get to borrow your credit history and boost their own credit history. This technique is known as piggybacking and is frequently used, for example, by parents to help college students build credit.
Whatever you and your new spouse do, don’t start closing cards in favor of combining accounts via authorized users and/or new joint accounts. Closing individual card accounts may negatively impact your credit score if you’ve had them for a long time or doing so raises your credit utilization ratio.
To preserve the good credit you built before getting married, simply change the name on your individual accounts for now and make a plan for closing the accounts you no longer want after any new accounts are established.
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