The financial services industry hasn't always been the most inclusive, but that's changing. If you're a transgender or non-binary person, one of the exciting new changes is the ability to have 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 of 2019, Mastercard launched the True Name initiative that offers this option to some cardholders. Learn about how this program works, how to get a True Name card for yourself, and which other credit card issuers have similar policies.
Why a Name Is Important to Transgender and Other Cardholders
Having a card that displays your chosen name is about more than just a series of letters. At its core, it's about validating your identity. It's about who you are.
“Transgender people have our identity called into question a lot," said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in an email to The Balance. "Harassment and discrimination are commonplace and it’s critical to improving our lived experience that we have IDs that match our identity."
According to a survey from NCTE, 32% of transgender and non-binary people faced harrassment, discrimination, or even assault after presenting IDs with names that didn't match their physical appearance. Thus, it's also a personal safety issue as well.
How True Name Initiatives Work
To understand how True Name programs work and how they might benefit you, first you have to understand a bit about how debit and credit cards work in the U.S.
Most cards are a partnership between two businesses: the credit card processing network (Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are the big ones), and the credit card issuer itself, usually a bank or credit union. To be able to use your chosen name, both companies need to have policies that allow you to do so.
Even with a True Name card, it can still be a problem if a merchant demands to see your legal ID and it doesn't match your chosen name 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 that can still be a hassle and open you up to possible discrimination.
American Express has offered this ability in the U.S. for decades, and doesn't have a formal name for the policy. But the kind of Amex card you have will determine whether you’re able to take advantage of it.
If you apply for a card through American Express, the company is both a processor and an issuer, so you don’t have to worry about whether another entity shares the policy. You'll have the ability to choose your name.
If you're applying for an American Express branded card through another issuing bank (such as the USAA Rewards American Express), you'll need to verify with the bank first to see if they'll allow your preferred name.
Mastercard announced in June 2019 that it would partner with banks to roll out its True Name program. So far, only two major banks have taken them up on providing this policy to credit card customers: BMO Harris and Citi.
It's been popular, though. In the first few months after Citi rolled out the program, for example, 3,300 customers applied for a name change on their cards, with another 100,000 people visiting the website to learn more about the program. Mastercard also "is in continued conversations with card issuers, large and small," said Sarah Ely, vice president of communications for Mastercard, in an email to The Balance.
Visa—the largest network—doesn't yet have a policy in place for this like Mastercard and American Express do. It does, however, offer one card (the Daylight Visa Card) that allows you to choose your own name.
How to Get a True Name Card
If you're interested in picking up a True Name card for yourself, check with your bank to see how it works since it varies by financial institution. We'll walk through how Citi and BMO Harries are approaching True Name cards through the new Mastercard partnership below as two examples:
Citi allows you to swap your current credit card for a True Name card once your account is already opened (you'll first need to get a card with your legal name on it and then request the name change). Currently, you can use your chosen name on most of Citi's credit cards, but not on debit cards or certain credit cards (see the FAQ on its website for details on card eligibility).
If you only have one Citi card open, you can request a True Name card through your profile on your online account. Otherwise—or if you have more than one Citi card—you'll need to call the company via the number on the back of your credit card to make the switch.
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 phone at 888-340-2265.
Alternatives for Transgender Cardholders
If you don't have a True Name card available to you yet, don't worry. Here are some other options you can use in the meantime:
- Use your old cards: Although it's not ideal, you can simply keep using your old cards.
- Shop online: This 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 toward meeting most of your needs and saving you the experience of having an in-store clerk question the name on your card.
- Use cash: Cash doesn't have a name on it that merchants need to check. This could be a useful option especially in places where you’d like to avoid an ID check that might be required if you used a card. And it doesn't take an ID check to withdraw cash from an ATM, either.
- Ask your bank for more equitable options: You can request that your bank offer these options. If enough people request it, they'll do what businesses do when faced with growing demand: Supply it.
- Raise your voice for better legislation: "Many businesses are making progress in the treatment of their transgender customers. They should be applauded for doing the right thing," said Heng-Lehtinen. "But right-minded businesses alone can’t end discrimination against transgender people." Heng-Lehtinen asks people to support the passage of the Equality Act.
The Bottom Line
True Name policies aren't perfect. They're not widely available, and they still leave the possibility for discrimination in some cases. However, they're a big step forward for transgender and gender non-binary people.