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Friday, July 1, 2022

MVLS Legal Tip Column: Credit Report Challenges After Legal Name and Gender Marker Changes

Identification that reflects an individual’s current gender identity or expression is an important recognition provided by the state, and one that can have a profound impact on the day-to-day life of transgender or gender non-conforming persons. Advocacy by the transgender community and LGBTQAI+ rights groups has resulted in important changes to state and federal laws – reducing hurdles for individuals seeking court orders for name and gender marker changes and making it easier for individuals to change their name and/or gender marker (including choosing an “x” gender designation) on driver’s licenses, state identification cards, and – upcoming in June of 2022 – on federal passports. However, other systems such as credit reporting and credit issuing agencies often do not have clear procedures in place to update an individual’s information after a name and gender marker change, leading to confusion, potential discrimination, and inaccurate credit reports for consumers.

It is not uncommon for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals to have difficulty updating their information with credit reporting agencies and credit card companies, or to have their “dead name” (a former, often birth name that they are leaving behind) still tied to their accounts and showing up in their credit history. There are reported cases where individuals ended up with separate credit scores – one linked to their dead name and one to their chosen name. There are other situations where individuals are not able to open a new credit card because their chosen name was not updated with the credit bureaus, and conversely not able to update their information with the credit bureau because they do not have new credit cards or other financial products in their chosen name. 

Discrepancies in names listed at credit reporting agencies can create hurdles when consumers are applying for credit or when individuals must submit credit reports to secure housing and employment. There may be suspicion of fraud if an individual’s dead name and chosen name show up on different accounts, or if a search brings back two different records. The continued use of an individual’s dead name in official reports and correspondence can also be mentally and emotionally traumatic, as well as increase the risks that the individuals may be subjected to employment or housing discrimination. 

While advocates are pushing for changes to credit reporting and other financial systems to make it easier for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals to change their name and have accurate information associated with their accounts, there are not many easy solutions to address these challenges. Individual outreach to each credit bureau may get account information corrected, but this can be challenging and require persistent advocacy with the bureau’s customer service team. Some credit card providers are now allowing people to have a name on a card that is not the same as the one on their identity documents or credit reports, but this is still not a common option. To help navigate some of these challenges, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) can assist not only with petitioning for name and/or gender marker changes, but also help individuals update their documents and address issues that may arise with their credit after a name and/or gender marker change. For more information about MVLS’ services, please visit www.mvlslaw.org.  

Heather Heiman, Esq., is the Human Trafficking Prevention Project Manager at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. The Human Trafficking Prevention Project (HTPP), a partnership between Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and University of Baltimore School of Law, strives to reduce the collateral consequences of criminal legal involvement for survivors of human trafficking and those populations made most vulnerable to exploitation, including members of the transgender community. The HTPP provides free legal representation to help survivors vacate, expunge, or shield prostitution and other related charges on their criminal records, as well as assistance with name and gender marker change, family law, housing, consumer debt, tax, and other civil legal matters. 

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