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Dr. Don Taylor, CFA, Bankrate.com advice columnistReporting husband's death to credit bureaus

Dear Dr. Don,
I read with interest the story on reporting a deceased person to be removed from mailing lists and I have a question about reporting the death of a family member. Would it be a good idea to report the death to the three main credit bureaus?

I learned a lesson when I reported the death of my husband to a credit card company. I wanted to add my daughter as a user on my credit card and as soon as I said, "My husband died and I would like to add my daughter," my credit card was canceled with a stroke of a key. I was shocked to learn that the card belonged to my husband. Even though he never used it, I did and I paid all the bills, I was only an authorized user.

For 48 years I mistakenly I thought I had possession of the card since my name was on it. Not so! Now I need to know if I should remove his name from the credit reporting agencies.

Thanks for your reply,
-- Joyce Joiner

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Dear Joyce,
The story you refer to, "'Deceased Do Not Contact' list," refers to a list maintained by the Direct Marketing Association, or DMA, that works to eliminate telemarketing calls and direct mailings to the deceased. The DMA charges $1 for this service, and you can register online.

The DMA list is different from the opt-out service provided by the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry. The credit bureaus belong to the DMA, but a belt-and-suspenders approach is to also use the permanent opt-out feature to stop them from sending firm offers of credit or insurance. This stops the preapproved offers generated by credit card and insurance providers.

If your husband passed away recently, it's a good idea to report your husband's death to the consumer reporting agencies so they won't extend credit to anyone using his identity. The agencies use a file maintained by the Social Security Administration, or SSA, to update their records, but that can take a couple of months from the time a death is reported to the SSA. Bankrate provides the contact information for the consumer reporting agencies. The Identity Theft Resource Center has a fact sheet with additional information.

As you've found out, being an authorized user on his account doesn't make you an accountholder. The good news is that the payment history, by law, does show up on your credit report. Get a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies to see where you stand on these accounts. Get copies of his report as well to see if there are additional credit accounts that need to be closed.

The Bankrate feature, "How to get your free credit report," tells you how to request them. In your shoes, I'd also pony up for a credit score from at least one of the three firms, just to see where you stand. If you need a credit card to replace the one that was taken from you, use Bankrate's credit card search.

To ask a question of Dr. Don, go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select one of these topics: "financing a home," "saving & investing" or "money."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Feb. 28, 2006
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