From court fees to replacing important documents like your driver’s license, you can expect changing your name to cost you anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on which state you live in. These costs can be reduced, however, if you meet certain criteria, like getting married or divorced or applying for a fee waiver.
Whether you’ve just been married, divorced, or adopted (or if your given name doesn’t represent who you really are), you may have many reasons to decide you’d like to go by a different name. While you can tell your friends to call you Steve if you want to make your new name official, you’ll need to legally change it. How complicated and costly this legal process will be depends mostly on where you live.
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The court order
The first, most important, and most expensive part of legally changing your name is obtaining the court order to do so. Nobody — not your bank, not the Department of Motor Vehicles, not the Social Security office — will recognize your name change request unless a judge signs your name change petition.
Court filing fees vary depending on which state you’re in, from as low as $25 in Alabama to up to $500 in certain counties in Louisiana. Even within a given state, the cost of the court filing fee may differ depending on which county you’re in since they process your request and set the price. If you’re interested in changing your name, you should start by visiting your county clerk’s website.
In order to get this process started, you’ll need to acquire the legal forms necessary to file your petition. You can obtain these forms from the county clerk’s office or print them from their website.
If you want to print the forms yourself, make sure you read the requirements on your county clerk’s website. Some states have odd requirements. For example, in Louisiana, your forms must be printed on legal-sized paper. You also want to make sure you print off every form you need so you aren’t blindsided by additional requirements when you bring in your paperwork to file.
Verifying your identity
Requirements for how you verify your identity vary from county to county. However, you will always be required to prove you are who you say you are before anyone lets you legally change your name.
Common documents you may be asked for are your driver’s license, Social Security card, and your original birth certificate (or a certified copy of it).
Certain states, like Alabama, may also require you to undergo a criminal background check and prove your residency before allowing you to file your court forms.
Should you hire an attorney?
If the mere thought of long, complex legal forms stresses you out, you can pay a law firm
to file your forms for you. They’ll ask you for the necessary forms of identification and your signature on some forms, then take care of the rest.
Before you make the choice to hire attorneys, just remember: lawyers are expensive
. Many law firms charge hundreds of dollars per hour for their time. If you go this route, plan on spending at least a few hundred extra dollars on the process. If you need money to pay for this, a personal loan
may be a good option.
After you file
Once you’ve filed your petition with the court clerks and paid your filing fee, your name change process is underway.
Taking out an ad
Before the judge approves your petition, you may be required to advertise your intent to change your name in a local newspaper. While many states have waived this requirement, not all have. Check here
for details about which states require you to publish your intent to change your name. Once the judge approves your petition, you’ve officially changed your name!
Having your petition denied
There are some reasons why a judge may deny your name change petition.
- You’re a criminal, and you’re trying to change your name to avoid prosecution or child support.
- You’ve attempted to change your name to something offensive (Kill U. All) or misleading (“Doctor” or “Officer”).
- You’ve attempted to change your name to the name of a famous person (Beyoncé Knowles) or a company (Facebook).
Your journey is not at an end, however. There are some important next steps you’ll need to take to ensure that you don’t run into any awkward situations down the road.
Update your Social Security card
The first thing you’ll want to do once your name change is approved is to acquire a Social Security card with your new name on it. Luckily, the Social Security Administration doesn’t charge to update information on cards, and you can access the form to request a new one here
The application is five pages long, and the first four are all instructions, so make sure you read them carefully so you don’t miss anything. Requesting a new Social Security card requires a lot of the same important documents as requesting a name change. So have your documents, like your birth certificate and government-issued identification, ready to go.
Once your form is filled out and you have the required documents, bring them to your local Social Security office
Get new government-issued IDs
You will have to pay a little bit of money to update your government-issued identification.
- Driver’s license: Once you have your new Social Security card, you can request a driver’s license (or other government-issued ID) with your new name on it. The cost to do this will vary from state to state, from as low as $10 in Missouri to as much as $89 in Washington.
For a full list of fees to acquire a new driver’s license, check out this site
- Passport: If you obtained your passport less than a year ago, you can update or correct it for free. If your passport is more than a year old, however, you’ll have to pay to have a new one made to match your name. Assuming you still have your passport and it’s not mutilated beyond recognition, it will cost you $100 to update your name and $115 if you want a passport card too. You can find instructions for requesting a replacement passport here and the fee calculator here.
Notify other institutions
- The IRS: The last thing you want when it comes time to file your taxes is to run into trouble because your new name doesn’t match IRS records. You can update your name with the IRS as you file your taxes, or by calling them at 800-829-1040.
- Your banks: Complications can arise when trying to buy items if the name on your credit or debit card doesn’t match the one on your license. So, once you obtain your new driver’s license, make sure you update your name with your financial institutions as well. You can do this for free online or by calling your bank. Here’s some helpful information if you need to change the name on your credit or debit cards.
Can I change my name for free?
If your name change falls under some of the most common situations, e.g. if you’re getting married or divorced, some states will allow you to complete your name change as a part of that process.
In most states, you can indicate when applying for your marriage license
that you’ll be changing your last name to match that of your spouse-to-be. You will still have to pay for your marriage certificate, of course, but there will be no additional fees to file for a name change.
Note that the ways in which you can change your name are fairly limited here. In most cases, you’ll be able to add a spouse’s maiden name as your middle name, combine your last names into a single hyphenated name, or change your last name to match your spouse. You won’t be able to adopt a totally new last name or change your first name in this way.
Similarly to getting married, the cost to change your name back to what it used to be before you got married is zero if you’re getting a divorce
. Make sure to ask the judge to include in the divorce decree that you’ll be returning to using your maiden name (or removing your spouse’s maiden name as your middle name), and you’ll be all set.
Again, the options here are limited. You can only change your last name and only to one you’ve previously used.
It’s also possible to have court filing fees waived when undergoing a name change if you meet certain criteria. As with everything, the process for requesting a fee waiver changes with your location.
Most states, however, don’t have an official form to fill out to request a fee waiver. In New York, for example, you simply submit a sworn affidavit detailing your financial situation and explaining why you’re unable to pay the legal fees associated with your court case. The New York State Courts website recommends you include the following information in your affidavit:
- state that you are unable to pay the costs, fees, and expenses needed to start or defend the case (or to start or answer an appeal)
- explain the nature of the case, tell the court what the case is about
- include facts about your case that show there is merit to your claims
- include a detailed explanation of the amount and sources of your income
- include a detailed list of your property with its value
- indicate whether any other person would benefit from any award in your case, and if so, whether that person is unable to pay the costs, fees, and expenses
While you may be able to waive the filing fee if you meet the above criteria, you may still have to pay to replace important documentation, like your driver’s license and your passport.
- Court filing fees vary depending on which state and county you’re in. Visit your county clerk’s website for specific cost information.
- You will need to verify your identity. Common documents you may be asked for are your driver’s license, Social Security card, and your original (or a certified copy of) birth certificate.
- Before the judge approves your petition, you may be required to advertise your intent to change your name in a local newspaper.
- You will need to update your Social Security card and other government-issued IDs, and notify the IRS and your banks.
- You may be able to change your name for free if you are getting married or divorced.
- You may be able to request a fee waiver. Each state has different requirements for this.
Ben Coleman is a veteran English teacher with a knack for translating complex concepts into bite-sized chunks. Having recently dug himself out of crippling credit card debt, he's passionate about providing excellent financial resources to folks who need them so they don't end up in the same position. Ben writes for SuperMoney from Rochester, NY where he lives with his wife and dogs (Yoshi and Pig).
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