Managing Credit: How to Prove You’re Not Dead

Your guide to building and protecting your credit

Let creditors know you're still alive and kicking.

It’s time to replace your car, so you shop around for the best deal, pick out your new ride, and decide on a color. You know the loan application process will be a breeze because of your history of consistent and timely payments on all your debts. But much to your surprise, you’re turned down. A few months ago, you applied for a credit card and the same thing happened. How could this be? One possibility is that the credit bureaus think you’re dead.

Sometimes this occurrence is a result of identity theft, where a thief gets a hold of your Social Security Number, applies for credit in your name, and then calls the lender to say you died so they won’t have to pay the bill, says Linda Foley, founder and chairman of the Identity Theft Resource Center. The most common way this mistake happens is if your account is somehow linked to a deceased individual. “Things could get complicated if you have a joint account with someone else and the other person is the primary account holder and that individual dies. When someone notifies the lender of the death, that person’s death notation could show up on your credit report,” says John Ulzheimer, credit expert at Credit.com. This notation is called a deceased indicator.

You could still be in the dark even if you subscribe to a credit monitoring service. Often, consumers don’t know they’re “dead” until they apply for a loan. According to Rod Griffin, director of public education at consumer reporting agency Experian, you won’t be notified by your credit monitoring service if a deceased indicator has been placed in your file.

Another way these mistakes happen is when a lender mistakenly contacts a consumer reporting agency and says that you died. This type of error is the easiest to catch and resolve since the source of the error is known and the deceased indicator will be noted next to the account on your credit report.

Being declared dead by the credit bureaus can have serious consequences. Among them are the inability to get a loan, employment, and the loss of your credit score. “No lender is going to want to do business with a person who has a deceased indicator on their credit report because of the possibility of fraud. Employment would also be difficult because it sends up a red flag when anyone sees it’s possible that the person they’re speaking with is not the same person because someone is telling you they’re dead,” says Ulzheimer. Furthermore, qualifying for a loan or credit would not be possible because credit scoring systems won’t score a credit file that says a customer is deceased.

Here are a few tips for proving your identity so that you can get your life back:

  1. Contact the Social Security Administration. The Social Security Administration furnishes businesses and government agencies with a list called the Death Master File, which is a list of deceased people who were issued a Social Security Number during their lifetime. If you’re not listed in the Death Master File, and everything shows you’re still alive on their end, request a letter from the Social Security Administration, verifying that you are not deceased. Provide this letter to the credit bureaus so that it can be placed in your file. If you are incorrectly listed in the Death Master File, and the Social Security Administration lists you as deceased, you’ll have to contact your local Social Security office and provide proof that you are alive. You’ll receive a verification document of their current records, which you can use to prove to lenders that you are not dead.
  2. Call and write all of the consumer reporting agencies. Cover all your bases. In addition to contacting the three major consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian), contact the fourth agency, Innovis.
  3. Monitor your credit reports. Order your credit reports and look for a deceased indicator next to your accounts, especially if you held an account with someone who recently died.

Sheiresa Ngo is the Consumer Affairs Editor at Black Enterprise.

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