When should I tell Social Security about my name change?
December 7, 2014 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I'll be changing my name very soon. Problem: My employer will also file my W-2 soon. I don't want mismatched documents to make SSA or IRS send a no-match letter. It'd inconvenience us both, and since this is due to a gender transition, it would also accidentally out me. Is there some time early next year when all the W-2 forms will be processed, and I can tell the SSA of my name change, then my employer, without triggering a no-match? Or is my best option to tell everyone ASAP and hope for the best?
posted by aw_yiss to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I changed my name with my employer first, and then SSA and it was not a problem with that year's taxes.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2014

I would wait until after your W-2 has been issued. Shouldn't be later than January 31.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on December 7, 2014

I just included a note with my taxes the year that an employer put my nickname (which is not even at all related to my real name) on my tax forms. I had no problem. I figure there is a reason why they put "WRITE YOUR SSN" on every single item you submit; they match the number more than the name.

The year I changed my name, I forgot to contact one former employer so I had tax forms with different names. I just included a note that year, too.

I was using that basic EZ form or whatever for my taxes.

If in doubt, call the IRS help number. I was amazed and impressed with how sweet and helpful the person was on the other end. :)
posted by AllieTessKipp at 1:31 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Both the IRS and the Social Security Administration instruct employers to continue using an employee's old name until the employee shows an updated Social Security card. Social Security Administration: "Change your payroll records only after the employee obtains an updated Social Security card with the new name." (link) IRS: "If a name has changed, continue to use the old name until the employee obtains an updated Social Security card with the new name." (link)

Your employer must issue a W-2 form to you by Feb. 2, 2015. They could theoretically create the W-2 as early as January 1, or even in December after your last paycheck. But they have until Mar. 31 to e-file it with the SSA. If they're small enough to submit these on paper (an option for filing less than 250 W-2s), the due date is Mar. 2, but who knows when the SSA will have processed them?

The safest approach to keep your name matched up would be to change it with both the SSA and the employer in December, if the change is effective that soon. Or wait until April or later, after the SSA has processed your 2014 earnings and reported them on to the IRS. If your employer is small and if you're comfortable inquiring, you could find out when and how (paper or e-file) the W-2s are submitted to the SSA, and plan accordingly. If you haven't registered your name change with SSA by the time you want to file your income tax return, you could file using your old name.

Also, see the "more info" link in this previous Ask.
posted by Snerd at 1:51 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hey, that happened to me last year! That's my ask!

I did a name/gender court order last year and immediately (like, 30 minutes after getting out of court) went to the SSA office. Two days later I informed HR, and they had already received a no-match notification. I suspect that there is a digital notification option that works more quickly than the physical letter, so depending on what your company uses, it might be a really quick thing. So my advice is to wait on your SSA change until your W2 has already been issued. There is no specific legal time limit on when you update your information, but obviously it's better to get all your ducks in a row early.

The no-match won't occur until your name is changed with the SSA. So you can go to court, change your name, and then wait to do the SSA/DMV stuff after your W2 is issued. You're still going to have to notify your employer, but this will buy you some time to prepare.

Taxes are done based on your SSN. So long as your SSN matches across all your documents, it should be fine. It worked out OK for me; I had W2s in both names, and it caused no issues. I still get checks in my old name or some combination of names, and the bank is fine about it so long as you come in person and show the teller your court order.

(My only advice is don't go to the DMV until well after your SSA stuff is changed, plus a couple weeks of padding to make sure the system has caught all the changes. The DMV website says that you only need a court order to change your information, but in reality, they pull all of their information from the SSA database. And the DMV clerks won't necessarily catch the change. I wound up with a wrong gender/right name ID and had to go through a lot of hassle to get it fixed because I went to the DMV the day after the SSA and it hadn't quite updated across both systems yet. On the plus side, the people in the DMV-CA head office in Sacramento are really pleasant to work with and very respectful, and handle this stuff all the time. Then wait for the ID to arrive before you change anything bank-related or try to buy beer. Also, congratulations!)
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:29 PM on December 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Unless you are leaving your job, you're coming out to your employer one way or another. I can't see a point in worrying about being outed by a no-match letter (i.e. beat SSA to the punch and tell your employer first). If blnkfrnk's experience is anything approaching typical with no-match letters coming so quickly, the letter is liable to show up before your new Social Security card.

As far as I know, it really doesn't matter what name(s) your W-2s are in because it's all tied to your SSN. Lots of people, trans and not, have filed taxes with wrong-name W-2s. My brother's last employer had his middle initial wrong on his W-2. I managed to spell my name really, really wrong on state taxes one year and I can tell you Illinois will tell you not to worry about it.
posted by hoyland at 6:56 PM on December 7, 2014

In Oregon, I had to do it in this order for a (divorce-related, so had court paperwork) name change:
1) court paperwork to DMV,
2) new temporary driver's license to social security office.

Because the DMV just needed me to HAVE a social security number to write down for them to verity, but didn't expect me to provide proof of it, and yet the social security office needed official proof of identity from the DMV, but wouldn't accept the court paperwork.

It was really annoying, because I'd expected it to be the other way around, and the unnecessary 1st visit to the social security office was a 40 mile round-trip.

I did in February, and it never even occurred to me that it might fuss up my taxes, which were somewhere about to be processed at the time. Pretty sure that some kind of "previous names" field must be available to them quite easily at the IRS. We've discovered that they don't seem to care about mismatched addresses on W-2s... we had one that never got changed last year, and it wasn't an issue. And that was separate states, even!
posted by stormyteal at 12:07 AM on December 8, 2014

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