What happens to your credit file when you die

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Credit Advice

Topics addressed on October 29, 2008:

What happens to your credit file when you die

Dear Max,

What happens to your credit file when you die? Does the file get closed right away, or does it stay open for a period of time?

- THB

Dear THB,

Experian doesn’t close or delete a credit file immediately after a person dies. Instead, the file will be “flagged” to indicate the individual is deceased. Doing so is important because it actually helps prevent using the deceased’s identity to commit fraud.

If someone were to try to use the dead person’s identity to apply for credit, the lender would receive a “deceased indicator” and would be able to stop the transaction and take appropriate action.

If Experian deleted the credit file, the identity thief would have a better chance of success because there would be nothing to report to the lender. With no warning, the lender might proceed with the application process.

Experian periodically receives the “dead file” from the Social Security Administration (SSA). It’s an indelicate but accurate name. The file enables Experian to “flag” credit reports so that lenders are alerted when the person’s identifying information is used to apply for credit. However, it is not a comprehensive list because it only includes those individuals who receive Social Security benefits and whose family has reported them to the Social Security Administration as deceased.

Spouses may request that a deceased indicator be added by providing a copy of the death certificate to our consumer assistance center. Executors or others representing the deceased party must also provide proof of their legal representation.

The most common way for a deceased indicator to be added to a credit report is by lenders. Families notify lenders that the accounts should be closed or that one party on the account is now deceased. The lender then sends that indicator to the credit reporting companies when they send their account updates.

Accounts with the deceased indicator will be deleted after seven years. At some point, all of the accounts will be deleted and the credit report will no longer exist.

It is important to distinguish between a single account being reported as belonging to a deceased individual and a deceased indicator from the SSA or estate executor that applies to the entire credit history.

A “deceased indicator” from the SSA applies to the entire credit report and tells those requesting a report that the person has died according to the SSA or documentation provided by the executor of the estate.

If the SSA reports you as deceased in error, you will need to work with it to change your Social Security records so that the deceased flag can be removed from your credit report.

On rare occasions, a lender may inadvertently apply the deceased indicator to both parties on a joint account. That is typically what has happened when you hear stories from someone saying that the “credit bureau says I’m dead.”

In those cases, you simply need to identify the creditor which reported the indicator and ask them to make sure they are only reporting it for the deceased party on the account.

Thanks for asking.

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