What is the Credit Card Issuer’s Real Name Policy?

The financial services industry has not always been the most inclusive, but that is changing. If you’re transgender or a non-binary person, one of the exciting new changes is the ability to make the name on your credit card match your chosen name instead of your legal name, which can take time and money to change.

In June 2019, Mastercard launched the True Name initiative that offers this option to some cardholders. Learn about how the program works, how to get a True Name card for yourself, and which other credit card issuers have similar policies.

Why Names Matter to Waria and Other Cardholders

Having a card that features your chosen name is more than just a series of letters. At its core, it’s about validating your identity. It’s about who you are.

“Transgender people often question our identity,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in an email to The Balance. “Harassment and discrimination are common and it is very important to improve. our life experience that we have an ID that matches our identity.”

According to a survey from NCTE, 32% of transgender and non-binary people face harassment, discrimination, or even assault after showing ID with a name that doesn’t match their physical appearance. So, this is also a matter of personal safety.

How the Real Name Initiative Works

To understand how True Name programs work and how they can benefit you, you first need to understand a little about how debit and credit cards work in the US.

Most cards are partnerships between two businesses: a credit card processing network (Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are the largest), and the credit card issuer itself, usually a bank or credit union. In order to use the name of your choice, both companies must have policies that allow you to do so.

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Even with Real Name cards, it can still be a problem if the merchant asks to see your official ID and it doesn’t match the name you chose on your card. Your card issuer can resolve the issue if you request that the merchant contact the issuer via the number on the back of the card. But it can still be troublesome and open up the possibility of discrimination.

American Express

American Express has offered this capability in the US for decades, and does not have an official name for the policy. But the type of Amex card you have will determine whether you can take advantage of it.

If you apply for a card through American Express, the company is both the processor and issuer, so you don’t have to worry about whether another entity shares the policy. You will have the ability to choose your name.

If you’re applying for an American Express-branded card through another issuing bank (such as USAA Rewards American Express), you’ll need to verify with the bank first to see if they allow your preferred name.

MasterCard

Mastercard announced in June 2019 that it would partner with a bank to launch its True Name program. So far, only two major banks have implemented this policy for credit card customers: BMO Harris and Citi.

It’s already popular though. In the first few months after Citi launched the program, for example, 3,300 customers applied for a name change on their card, with another 100,000 visiting the website to learn more about the program. Mastercard is also “in advanced conversations with card issuers, large and small,” said Sarah Ely, vice president of communications for Mastercard, in an email to The Balance.

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Visa

Visa—the largest network—does not yet have a policy for this like Mastercard and American Express do. However, it offers one card ( Daytime Visa Card) which lets you choose your own name.

How to Get Real Business Cards

If you are interested in getting a Real Name card yourself, check with your bank to see how it works as these cards vary by financial institution. We’ll discuss how Citi and BMO Harries approached True Name cards through the new Mastercard partnership below as two examples:

city

Citi allows you to exchange your current credit card for a True Name card once your account is opened (you must first obtain a card with your legal name and then request a name change). Currently, you can use the name of your choice on most Citi credit cards, but not certain debit or credit cards (see FAQ at the website for details on card eligibility).

If you only open one Citi card, you can request a True Name card through your profile in your online account. Otherwise—or if you have more than one Citi card—you’ll need to contact the company at the number on the back of your credit card to make the switch.

BMO Harris

BMO Harris allows True Name cards for all of its card accounts, including credit cards, ATM cards, and debit cards. You can request a True Name card by visiting a local branch (required for debit cards), or by telephone at 888-340-2265.

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Alternative for Transgender Cardholders

If you don’t have a Real Name card yet, don’t worry. Here are some other options you can use in the meantime:

  • Use your old card: While not ideal, you can still use your old card.
  • Shopping online: It also doesn’t solve the problem of having the wrong name on your card, and you can’t buy everything online. But it can go a long way in meeting most of your needs and saving you from the experience of having a store clerk question the name on your card.
  • Use cash: Cash does not have a name that merchants need to check. This can be a useful option especially in places where you want to avoid ID checks that might be required if you use a card. And also no need to check ID to withdraw cash from ATM.
  • Ask your bank for a fairer option: You can ask your bank to offer this option. If enough people ask for it, they will do what businesses do in the face of increased demand: Provide it.
  • Raise your voice for better legislation: “Many businesses are making progress in treating their transgender customers. They should be rewarded for doing the right thing,” says Heng-Lehtinen. “But right-minded businesses alone cannot end discrimination against transgender people.” Heng-Lehtinen asks people to support the passage Equality Act.

Underline

The True Name policy isn’t perfect. They are not widely available, and they still leave the possibility of discrimination in some cases. However, they are a huge step forward for transgender and gender non-binary people.

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