IRS Name Change for the Married and Divorced
It's that time of year again. The time when we all look up, see the date on the calendar and think "oh no. Taxes are due how soon? Arrrrghhhh!"
The last thing on your mind right now—now that you've noticed the date—is working on changing your name. "That can wait for a while," you might be thinking. "I need to find those receipts and that W-2 and wait… am I filing taxes alone or are we filing together? How do you even do married taxes?"
Let's leave the "how do you do married taxes" question for another time. For now, let's just impress upon you that this is not the time to stop working on getting your name changed. In fact, now is the time when you want to ramp up your name change, particularly if you haven't yet changed your name with the Social Security Administration.
IMPORTANT: You cannot file your taxes under your new married name until you have legally changed your name with the Social Security Administration.
ALSO IMPORTANT THOUGH LESS FUN: If you are divorced and have taken back your maiden name (or taken on a new name altogether), the same rule applies.
The name you give to the IRS and the name on file with the SSA has to match.
This is because the IRS verifies the information you put on your taxes with the information on file with the Social Security Administration. If it doesn't match badness ensues, such as a potential delay in receiving any tax refund that you're entitled to.
The IRS may simply decide that, since the information doesn't match, it will not process your taxes. Because this is the "busy season" for them, you might not receive notification about this until well after the deadline for filing has passed. Failure to file is not a boat in which anybody wants to sit.
If the IRS does process your taxes, it may decide to hold on to your return until the name on file with the SSA matches the name you entered on your forms. Again, it might take weeks for this decision to be communicated to you. This is not helpful if you had big plans for your tax return!
You could get entangled in weeks of red tape, forms and headaches as you work to get the Social Security office and the IRS on the same page. And believe us, getting everybody on the same page is going to be your responsibility. These agencies merely process forms and hunt down errors. Fixing the errors is not in either of their wheel houses.
Nobody wants to deal with all of that.
Usually, changing your name with the SSA isn't that big a deal. You simply mail in the correct form, legal proof of your name change (a certified copy of your marriage certificate or divorce decree should suffice unless you live in a state where more steps need to be taken) and wait for your new card to arrive in the mail. Pretty easy, right?
Sorry, not today!
Because it's later in March and your taxes need to be filed by April 15, there is no guarantee that the SSA will receive your paperwork and get your name change processed in time. You're going to have to go down to the SSA office and change it in person.
Changing your name is one of those things that feels like a giant hassle. It's understandable that you'd want to put it off for as long as possible. Luckily there are things that you can use to help streamline the name change process. If you wanted, you could even get almost all of your name changing done (or at least set the wheels in motion) in a single day.
What matters is that you don't put it off. Putting it off, like most things that feel like a giant hassle, only makes the problem worse. Once you get started you'll see how little of a hassle the process actually is.
In this case, the good news is that, because you're actually going to the office, the system should process your name change within a day or two. Hooray!
Still, you'll want to wait at least ten business days before you actually file your taxes, just to give the SSA some wiggle room. That's okay though: you need that time to find your receipts, W-2s and fill out your forms!