What happens to your credit report when you die?

The obvious answer would be that it is deleted, but that isn’t true.  The Social Security Administration reports the Social Security Number as belonging to someone who is deceased.  The credit reporting agencies place an indicator or “flag” on the credit report indicating that this Social Security Number belongs to a deceased person.

While it makes sense, the credit report is not deleted to prevent new accounts being opened using the retired Social Security Number.  The SSN is, however, included in an identity theft database of deceased Social Security Numbers created by the Social Security Administration and is used by most fraud detection databases.

If the credit grantor is notified of the death, the account holder is reported as deceased.  The entire credit file is not “flagged” because of the account.  If the deceased individual shared joint or authorized user accounts with someone such as a spouse, the deceased notice will be indicated on this account on the spouse’s credit report as well.  In this case, the deceased name needs to be removed from the joint account and switched to an individual account. Credit grantors usually require the surviving spouse to apply for the card under their own name and qualify based on their credit.

Credit reports with a death notice will not be scored by most scoring models used by lenders.  This notice also prevents any pre-approved credit offers being sent. You could also place a credit freeze at each of the credit reporting agencies to prevent new accounts to be opened.

If someone dies in your family, you should contact the creditors, Social Security Administration and the credit reporting agencies.  This will help to prevent any fraudulent activity.  To place a death notice on a credit report, send a letter via certified mail to each credit reporting agency.  In the letter include the decedent’s full name, Social Security Number, address, date of birth, and date of death; enclose a copy of the death certificate. Send the letter to each agency at these addresses:

  • Equifax,  P.O. Box 105069,  Atlanta, GA 30348, 1-800-658-111
  • Experian,  P.O. Box 9530 , Allen, TX 75013 , 1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion,  P.O. Box 6790,  Fullerton, CA 92834 , 1-800-888-4213

It is not easy dealing with the loss of a loved one, but you have to make sure that no fraudulent activity occurs and their good name is preserved.

John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.  Follow him on Twitter here.

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