Changing Your Name: Do It Right or Pay the Price

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Planning a wedding and a name change for the bride

When my now-wife and I were planning our wedding, the last thing on our minds was how, exactly, she would change her name to officially become Mrs. Urken. There were more pressing matters to worry about, like planning the ceremony, solidifying the logistics of our reception, and staying within our budget (that's me with Tiffany in the photo above at our September nuptials).

But, as we soon learned, when and how she handled changing her name could have a significant impact on our future finances, including buying a house and ensuring a speedy tax refund.

What's in a Name

About 80% of the 2.2 million women who get married each year choose to change their names -- and that means ordering a new driver's license and passport, updating bank accounts and changing countless official documents from employee and payroll identification forms to insurance policies and mortgages (see this comprehensive name-change list from wedding site TheKnot).

Dealing with all the bureaucracy can be a colossal hassle.

Jake Wolff was reminded of that when his law school buddy Josh Gelb, who was engaged to be married, complained about how much time the process was costing his fiancee. Wolff thought back to his own wife's frustration with all the official hurdles she had to clear. "Out of the blue she said, 'I wish I could pay someone to do this,' " Wolff recalled. "A light went off in my head."

That light turned out to be HitchSwitch, which Wolff and Gelb launched in 2009 to streamline the name-change process. Their template -- and others like it from, for example-- promises to take the hassle out of name change for a fee. Fill out a brief questionnaire, and for $40, HitchSwitch will send you a packet of official forms with the required information filled out and envelopes addressed to the correct administrative offices. (The only document they can't take care of is a driver's license, which must be obtained in person.)

How Getting it Wrong Can Cost You

Time is money, of course, but there are also long-term financial advantages to nailing all the details when it comes to a name change. For example, here are a few things that can fall through the cracks:

Real estate transactions: It's not unusual for newlyweds to buy a house together. That's what Aimee Grove and her husband did after they got married in April 2004. But Grove, a marketing executive in the San Francisco Bay area, didn't change her name until March 2012, in anticipation of her son's starting kindergarten.

When the couple recently refinanced their mortgage, they ran into delays, since her new name wasn't on the old documents. "There were a few complexities in the paperwork, since my name had changed since the first mortgage and the name on the trust and deed," Grove said. This involved more administrative work and in-person trips to the bank.

Rewards programs: Megan Mayo Ryan, the tourism manager at the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, got married in September. She started the name change process some three weeks after her wedding and has almost finished now, a month and a half later. But something almost slipped through the cracks: her frequent flyer numbers and loyalty programs.

While changing her identity, she could have unwittingly made herself ineligible for her miles or points by assuming a new name. Or, every time she tried to book a flight, she'd have to phone customer service to explain why the name on her frequent flyer account didn't match the reservation. To solve the problem, Ryan wrote a formal letter to various travel and accommodations services to get her name updated, which typically took about two weeks.

Employment documents: Name change is important for payroll purposes, so employers can properly issue paychecks. "I've been at my company for eight years and am established with my network under my maiden name," Mayo Ryan said. But she uses her married name at work to make sure her paycheck is on the social security record attached to her new official name.

Taxes: If you are hyphenating your last name (as my wife is) or taking your spouse's last name, you need to change your name with the Social Security Administration for I.R.S. purposes. If you fail to do this, the I.R.S. may not be able to match your new name with your social security number and could delay your tax refund.

My wife -- an actress who will be keeping her maiden name for the stage, as much as Urken lends itself to star quality -- is now eager to make her personal name change. Tiffany is particularly fond of tax refunds and wouldn't countenance a delay. In order to keep the peace in our first year of marriage -- and to ensure tax refund day happens as a happy occasion -- we will be using an expedited service for her transformation into Mrs. Urken.

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