This post originally appeared on Credit.com.
In the movie "J. Edgar," there is a scene when the main character is denied credit at a men’s clothing store because “John Hoover” owes the store money. He explains that he was named after his father, John, but he also sometimes goes by the name Edgar. When pushed to choose just one name, he signs his name J. Edgar Hoover.
Many of us were born with a standard name sequence: Our first name is the name we go by, then our middle name is rarely used (unless mom is yelling at us!), and then our last name. For example, John Edgar Hoover might typically go by “John.” But that’s not the case for everyone, as was the case with the founder of the FBI. Someone could be called by their middle name (“Edgar,” in our example).
Unfortunately, this has the potential to keep you from having the best credit possible or even to hurt your credit, just as it did for Hoover.
Although credit reporting agencies try to allow for it by reporting a primary name and aliases, it’s not a perfect science to collect every variation of a person's name. Here’s how it could affect you:
- Bad credit from others could be reported as yours. As depicted in the movie, the main character may have had very good credit but his name was saddling him with his father’s bad credit.
- Big changes could eliminate all credit history. A woman who goes by the name Mary Anne Smith at 123 Main Street may get married and move into a home she co-owns with her husband, and now she’s Mary Jones at 456 King Street. Will the credit reporting bureau recognize that both names belong to the same person? You want to make sure your name change is updated with your creditors and always confirm your name is correct on your credit reports.
- Name variations might not be reporting to your credit. If Mary Anne Smith also had a credit card that was issued under her middle name (“M. Anne Smith”), then the credit reporting agency might not realize that these are one and the same person.
In all three examples (and numerous others), names can create an additional layer of complexity that might affect your credit.
Yes, credit reporting agencies are becoming increasingly better at matching that information (since they often match multiple pieces of information like name, address, and phone number all at the same time) but even that system is not perfect.
Therefore, if you have any loans or credit cards that are issued with variations of your name, or if you have changed your name or occasionally go by your middle name, then you will want to pull your credit, check all of your existing accounts against those reported on your credit report, and alert the credit reporting agencies to any aliases you might be using. You can monitor your credit for free using a tool like the Credit Report Card, which updates your credit scores monthly and can let you track any sudden changes that may signal an error.
Don’t let J. Edgar Hoover’s problem keep you from getting the credit score you deserve.