Nothing in life is permanent- sometimes not even your name. Good thing the SSA knows this, and they’ve made it routine and easy to change your name on your Social Security card. So, when your name changes, there’s no excuse for not making sure the Social Security Administration knows about it. If you don’t, you may have issues next time you go to file your federal income tax return, or worse you may have trouble getting your Social Security benefits when the time comes (either retirement or disability).
Why You Must Notify the Social Security Administration of Your Name Change
Let’s say your name is Sally Smith. You get married to John Doe. You decide to hyphenate your last name so now you are Sally Smith-Doe. That is what will be recorded on your marriage certificate, which is a legal document kept on file with your state or county clerk’s office.
But your local government doesn’t share information with the SSA or the IRS so as far as the Feds are concerned, you’re still Sally Smith.
Now let’s say after a year of marriage you file your federal income tax return as Sally Smith-Doe. The IRS matches up every tax return with previous years returns so now there’s going to be a mismatch. Yes, Social Security numbers are used but they use triangulation- comparing several bits of information to make sure they got it right. They need to be able to match your name with your social security number.
So now there’s a mismatch in the names and your tax return will get flagged for further scrutiny so they can figure out what the problem is. If you’re expecting an IRS refund you’re going to be pretty annoyed with yourself for not taking care of that simple Social Security name change right after you got married.
How to Get a Social Security Name Change
Unfortunately you can’t do a Social security name change online. That’s because the SSA needs to see original documents, which have a raised seal on them and until we get 3-D imaging on the internet you’re going to have to go to your nearest SSA office and do the name change in person. You can, however, download the Social security name change form online: SS-5. It’s available here on the SSA website. It’s called Application for a Social Security Card and it’s the same form used for new Social Security Numbers. If you prefer, you can also call the SSA to get a form SS-5:
If you don’t live near an SSA ofice, then you can do this by snail mail. Send in the SS-5 along with your original certified documents and they will process your name change through the mail. Your documents will be returned to you and your new Social Security card will come in the mail within two weeks. The SSA website shows addresses where to send your application.
What Documents You Need for a Social Security Name Change
You will need to show the marriage certificate or divorce decree that initiated the name change. You can’t send a copy, even if you get it notarized. The custodian of the document (e.g. county clerk) can certify a copy, but only the custodian can do this.
If you changed your name more than two years ago, they’ll also need proof of identity, like a birth certificate. Again, perform the Social Security name change right away after getting married or divorced.
If you were not born in the U.S. you will be required to prove you are a citizen or that you are authorized to work in the U.S. These would be a U.S. passport, Certificate of Citizenship, or Certificate of Naturalization. Evidence of Immigration status would be a document issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), like
- Form I-551
- Form I-94
- Fomr I-766