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How Does a Name Change Affect Social Security Benefits?

Keeping records up-to-date will help ensure smooth processing of payments

Social Security Cards, change names

Changing your name? Don't forget Social Security card and identity record updates that go along with it. — Istock

En español | Q: I recently got divorced and I am changing my name. How do I get my new name onto my Social Security card?

A: The first thing to do is collect the documents that prove you have legally changed your name. These might include, in your case, a divorce decree, and in other cases a marriage certificate, a naturalization certificate showing a new name, or a court order name change statement. You may also have to prove your identity and U.S. citizenship, if these are not already on record at the Social Security Administration.

The next step is to fill out an application for a Social Security card (pdf); it's the same form you used to apply for the first time. Deliver the form personally or mail it to your local Social Security office with your documents.

Be aware that all documents must be originals or copies issued by the agency involved. Social Security will not accept photocopies or even notarized copies. Any documents you provide will be returned to you with a receipt. The agency says you should get your new card in about 10 days. It will have the same number as your old card, and it will show your new name.

Q: That all sounds a bit complicated. Do I really need to go to the trouble?

A: Yes. For the smooth administration of present or future benefits, it's important that your name on the card matches your name shown on basic legal documents.

Q: So my card is basically my identity in the Social Security system?

A: Yes! The name and number on the card allow the system to keep track of your lifetime earnings and figure out your retirement and other benefits. The name and number also connect you into American society and institutions at large, which commonly use the number for personal identification. That's yet another reason to make sure that your name is right.

Q: So should I carry my card in my wallet?

A: No. Social Security advises you to leave your card at home. You don't want to risk losing it — identity thieves would find the information on it very useful. The important thing is that you know the number. You'll need it when you fill out such things as job applications and medical forms. In a few instances, such as applying for certain kinds of federal benefits, you'll need to show the actual card, but usually all you need is to know the number.

Next page: Use Social Security to research family history and baby names. »

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