Money Matters

7 ways transgender people can avoid major financial snags

Written by

Jonathan McFadden


November 2, 2020

It’s taken about six months for Olivia Jenks’ bank to recognize who she is.

That’s because, for the first 49 years of her life, Olivia went by a different name. A “deadname.”

She’s a transgender woman who, about seven years ago, began her transition from Howard to Olivia, from a “man’s man” who worked in construction, she said, to the person she always was inside. And while her journey’s been underscored with more highs than lows, it’s also been fraught with its fair share of financial complications.

For one, Olivia, now 52, still has a credit card with her “deadname” on it. (A “deadname” is the name transgender and non-binary people receive at birth that doesn’t align with their gender.)

She’s only able to use the card because she carries her old passport card, which proves she once went by her deadname. She shows it to merchants who need to verify her identity. It’s not her favorite thing to do, but it works for now until her gendered name shows up with all her financial apps and institutions — a process she started in March that’s still partly underway.

“Once I go through all my financial companies — all the loans, investments, things like Cash App — once that’s all switched over, I’ll feel comfortable getting a new passport,” she said. “It’s been five, six months to get this far.”

Olivia Jenks

Her experience is not unlike what other transgender and non-binary people face when they change their names to reflect their gender identity. For many, the process is costly and cumbersome as they navigate stringent requirements, such as providing proof of surgery and court orders, to update their IDs. As a result, only 21% of transgender people who transition update their IDs and records successfully, according to a report from the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Some financial institutions have taken steps to make the process easier. In partnership with Mastercard, Citi recently launched its True Name initiative, which will let card members choose the name listed on their credit card. The plan aims to alleviate discrimination trans and non-binary people experience when using financial products. It’s a move in the right direction, but the industry overall still has a long way to go.

We recognize everyone’s experience is different. However, Olivia shared details of her journey to help show what steps transgender people can take to avoid financial snares when updating their names.

1. Prepare yourself for court

You can’t update your ID without legally changing your name. That means you’ll have to deal with the court system, and each state has a litany of its own requirements for undergoing the process. Visit the National Center for Transgender Equality’s ID Documents Center to familiarize yourself with your state’s name change laws. Also, consider hiring a lawyer to help you deal with all the paperwork. Although the waiting period was long, Olivia paid a lawyer $600 to process her name change.

“Not having to deal with the name change through the courts was a godsend,” she said. “I know the vast majority of people in my position can’t afford to pay $600 to have their name changed. If you can, do so, even if it takes saving up the money.”

2. Get a new Social

Olivia thought a court-certified affidavit showing her new legal name would be enough to update information with her bank. It wasn’t. The bank informed her she needed a new ID first. That set off a series of back-and-forth correspondence with government offices, and more waiting. She went to the DMV, which told her she needed a new Social Security card. She contacted officials with the Social Security Administration, who instructed her to send them original copies-only of her court documents and driver’s license. It took nearly two months to get her license and court papers back after she mailed them. Three days later, she got her new Social Security card.

3. Take a trip to the DMV (ugh, we know)

With her updated Social Security card in hand, Olivia went to the DMV for a new ID. She waited three hours and filled out several forms before paying for a temporary one. As of her interview with LendingTree, she was still waiting for her new driver’s license to arrive in the mail.

4. Get your bank on board 

After getting her temporary ID, Olivia was able to change her name on her bank account and payroll at her job. That process went fairly smoothly but, by the time of our interview, she was still waiting on her bank to send her a new ATM card. That could take up to eight weeks, she said.

5. Get to know your credit card companies

Of her six credit cards, Olivia found that she was able to easily change her name on four of them because the issuers didn’t need her ID. The other two, however, required proper identification before they’d make a change. She’s finally able to do that, but she still has to submit her updated ID to each of her credit card issuers, so they’ll change her name on her accounts, not just on the cards themselves. Until then, she’ll keep using her passport to show that the person on the accounts matches the person using the cards.

6. Report discrimination

Olivia says she hasn’t faced overt housing or employment discrimination because of her name change, although that’s a common struggle for many transgender people. Because credit reports list all names associated with an individual, a transgender person’s “deadname” will appear on their report. If their name change is noticed by a landlord or employer, they could lose out on a housing or job offer, according to the nonpartisan Gender Policy Report. If you or someone you know was the victim of housing or employment based on gender identity, file a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), respectively.

Also, visit the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Transgender Law Center for legal information and resources. Consult your local chapter of PFLAG, a confidential advocacy and education organization for LGBTQ+ people, or your local LGBT center for help and advice.

7. Brace yourself for the long game

Waiting has been the hallmark of Olivia’s journey and unflinching patience has been her saving grace.

“None of this happens overnight, no matter how hard you want to push,” she said. “You’re essentially dealing with the government in a bunch of different ways. Everything in the government moves at the speed of the government. You can’t force your way through the DMV, IRS or the courts. When you do try to do that, you get less. You get less help. Everything takes longer. Be nice, be patient and be confident, and you’ll get everything you want.”

This blog post featured a story from someone who is not a LendingTree customer. This person was not compensated for their participation in this story.