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Updated on Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Your wedding is around the corner, and you take a romantic date to the Register of Deeds office to get your marriage certificate. As you walk towards the windowless building, you realize that you must finalize the decision to change your name.
Will you take your spouse’s name, hyphenate your names, keep your name or change it to something new?
If you change your name, are you stuck with it forever? Are you going to spend money on new IDs? Will your credit score suffer? Will you have trouble selling your car or house?
Before you change your name, these are the things you need to know.
Changing your name isn’t always free
If you change your name at the start of your marriage, your name change comes free with the cost of obtaining a marriage license. You will show your signed and sealed marriage certificate as evidence of your name change.
Similarly, if you change your name in an uncontested divorce, most states allow you to add a name change provision within the divorce complaint. The judge’s seal and signature on the divorce decree provide proof of your name change.
Outside of marriage and divorce, changing your name is more arduous. You must file a petition for a name change at the courthouse in the county where you live. Within the petition, you’ll state pending criminal charges and that you aren’t seeking to avoid unpaid debts. You may also need to provide letters from character witnesses.
At that point, you’ll pay a filing fee that can range from $150 to $350. On top of the filing fee, you may need to pay attorney’s fees and courtroom fees before you complete your legal name change. Fees and processes differ in every county.
How do I inform institutions of my new name?
Once you legally change your name, you must provide evidence of your new name to the Social Security Administration. This step needs to be complete before you file your taxes. If the name on your tax filing differs from the name on record the SSA, the IRS may delay processing your filing and sending your tax return.
Once you’ve gotten a new Social Security Card, you can update the following:
- Driver’s license
- Employer documents
- Utility companies
- Telecommunications providers (phone, internet, cable)
- Car title
- Home ownership deed
- Insurance policies
- Bank accounts (don’t forget online banks)
- Credit cards
- Car loans
- Any other debts
- Brokerage accounts
- Health savings accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Voter registration
- Doctor’s offices
- Rental contract
- Other people’s wills
- Frequent flier programs
- Other points programs
These changes are free and easy to make. Just present evidence of your name change and fill out a form specific to that institution.
What if I forget to change my name somewhere?
Forgetting to change your name on an account isn’t a major issue, but you will incur some headaches down the road. For example, I couldn’t buy new car insurance until I changed my name with my existing insurer. In order to present evidence of prior coverage, my name change had to go through first.
You should expect to file additional paperwork when you refinance or sell a house if you keep your former name on the deed or mortgage.
A friend had to fill out a name change form for a pension from a job that she left 37 years earlier. She didn’t realize her mistake until she received a check made out to her maiden name.
Whether you’ve forgotten for four months or four decades, filing forgotten paperwork is all that is required to fix mistakes and re-quire old assets.
What won’t change if I change my name?
Your assets and liabilities remain yours if you change your name.
You still own your bank accounts, houses, cars and more, even if you forget to change your name on the account or title. Down the road, you may have to fill out paperwork to legally sell or withdraw money, but you remain the legal owner.
Likewise, your liabilities follow you when your name changes. Despite your name change, you must continue to pay current loans and credit card balances, and your credit history will remain unchanged. It will continue to show positive information (like on time payments) and negative information like debts in collections and judgments against you.
When it comes to assets and debts, you will not see long-term consequences from changing your name.
What about my career?
The biggest consequence to consider before executing your name change is whether it will change your earning potential. If your name has brand equity, you may find that it’s easier to advance in your career if you keep your name.
I intended to use my married name at work, but to keep my access rights, I had to keep my email address, which includes my maiden name. To avoid confusion, I continue to use my maiden name at work.
However, you can use your name change to your advantage. Sometimes well known public figures change their names, and they (and their marketers) find a way to make a splash with the new name, and use the opportunity to advance their careers.
Whether you want a big splash or a quiet transition, you can handle name change if you have a solid name transition plan in place.
Should you change your name?
Once you know about the hassle and costs associated with changing your name, it’s easier to decide if changing your name is right for you. I changed my name over three years ago, and I am glad that I did. However, my name changing adventure wasn’t quite complete. While writing this post, I learned that I had three accounts still set up under my maiden name. It took ten minutes, six sheets of paper and three stamps for me to fix the accounts.