Monday, September 03, 2012

Changing your name with less hassle

The Problem

Dealing with name changes due to a major life event can be a bit of a headache.  For starters, there is the Social Security office, Department of Motor Vehicles, and IRS.   Since a lot of these changes must be done in person, the time involved is considerable.

Kiplinger's recently had an article about a few services that can help relieve some of the burden.  But, what you might not bargain for is the pain those other accounts in your life can be, such as banks and frequent flyer and loyalty programs.  Even worse than what you might imagine.  

The Experience

While one might think it is straightforward, airlines in particular, given the burden they have in maintaining passenger security, are stringent with identity changes.  The process typically involves writing a letter and enclosing proof of the name change, such as a marriage certificate copy.  But, that's not everything.  One needs to make sure that their new name matches exactly how they want their program information to appear.  Again, not as straightforward as one might think.

My wife had a huge headache with changing her last name and making it her middle one and adding my last name.  The computer thought it was a hyphenated name, but she only intended to have her new middle initial displayed. As a result, her boarding passes and account information were never in sync.  Because of that nuance, frequent flyer flight credit and other ticketing issues were an absolute nightmare to manage. To make matters worse, this airline was going through IT changes and therefore she had to re-submit the same information, spend hours on the phone, and follow up to make sure the change was processed correctly in both systems.  One can also run into trouble if their address has changed, too.  Not only is a marriage certificate necessary, but driver's license, or some other proof such as a utility bill, might be needed.

The Solution

First, order a bunch of certified marriage certificates.  You will likely need several. For garden variety government form changes, you may not need to pay for a service to help you out, but since it's only $30, it might save a bit of time.  For your loyalty programs, use a site such as Yodlee to track every account you have, print a list out, and systemically check off when you have changed your name on each.  If you have zero balances in any of them, and no elite status, you might be better just cancelling the account and starting over.  Ironically, one doesn't need to prove their identity with a driver's license or other identification until a change to the account is necessary.