Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s bill would fix transgender, non-binary credit report issues

  • After my legal gender-affirming name change, I struggled to find an apartment.
  • I was charged with identity theft and fraud because my credit file was split in two.
  • A new bill proposed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley could change things for other trans and non-binary people.

The day the court approved my legal gender-affirming name change was one of the happiest days of my life.

After picking up my legal name change decree from the courthouse, I danced out of the building. I FaceTimed my sisters and closest friends to tell them the good news. We cried, laughed and celebrated this milestone together.

Although this was one of the happiest parts of my gender transition, I still did not understand that the financial systems we all depend on are not equipped to care for transgender and non-binary people.

I was discriminated against in housing because the credit bureaus did not properly process my name change

After my legal name change, I followed all of the following recommended steps. I updated my name and gender marker with the Social Security Administration. I dutifully stood in line at the DMV to update my driver’s license and registration. I updated my name on my bank accounts.

Six months later, it was time for me to find a new apartment before undergoing gender affirmation surgery. While applying for apartments, I disclosed to potential landlords that I was transgender, explaining that they might see a different name on my old financial records.

Three reputable management companies in Los Angeles completely ignored me after disclosing this information, even after paying the fees associated with credit and background checks. Finally, a management company told me they were having trouble processing my application because I had split credit reports – one under my dead name and another under my new legal name.

I have been charged with fraud multiple times and had to pay additional security deposits

Desperate to find stable housing months before having major surgery, I accepted the only management company that was willing to take the time to work with me. They asked for many different forms of identification, both under my new legal name and under my dead name, to check shared credit reports.

The management company asked why my social security number was from 2004 if I was born in 1991. I explained that I am a Filipino immigrant who moved here as a teenager. They then demanded to see my naturalization certificate to prove what I was saying. Luckily, I had it handy, but I wondered how many cisgender people had to show their naturalization certificate just to get an apartment in the first place.

When I was finally approved for the apartment, I had to set up the utilities for my new home next. Due to my split credit reports, I had to go to a branch to open one of my accounts in person, as I was not allowed to do so over the phone. I also had to put down a $200 deposit to get my utilities activated because my split credit reports made me feel like I was less creditworthy.

Changing my name on my credit report could take years

Of the three major credit bureaus, only Experian has publicly expressed support for the transgender and non-binary community. And while the process for changing my legal name on my credit report with Equifax is fairly straightforward, TransUnion requires trans and non-binary people to call each individual financial institution on their report — that is, each institution with which you’ve already dealt, not just your current banks and lenders — to report their legal name change.

Whenever I have to report my legal name change to a financial institution, I worry that I may experience transphobia, homophobia, or other forms of violence in coming out. Even after spending my time and energy reporting my legal name change, it can still take credit bureaus months to process the change.

Because of my split credit reports, I’m afraid to leave my apartment and face the same housing discrimination again. I’m afraid it will one day prevent me from buying a house — or, if I qualify for a mortgage, it will only be with a higher interest rate.

A new bill proposed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley could make things easier for trans and non-binary people

Unfortunately, my story is common in my community. A 2016 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality shows that 19% of transgender and non-binary people have been denied housing because of their gender identity.

But a new bill, proposed today by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), could change that. If signed into law, the Accurate Credit Reports After Legal Name Change Act would ensure that trans and non-binary people don’t have to jump through the same hoops as I did.

The bill would require credit bureaus to stop using dead names and start referring to trans and non-binary people only by their correct names. It would also ask the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to create a system where consumers could submit a single request to all bureaus to have their legal name updated with the aim of ensuring that no credit history is lost and no reports are split.

According to Pressley, “In this country, your credit score is your financial reputation. The credit reporting system has perpetuated the inequities that have pushed our most vulnerable consumers – including our trans and non-binary brothers and sisters – further at the margins. Passing this bill would be a significant step as we work toward long overdue economic justice for the trans community.”

Update, 3:58 p.m. This story has been updated to include details about the bill’s directive to the CFPB.

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