How Credit Cards Are Accommodating Transgender Identity


Transgender and nonbinary people can face an extra level of scrutiny and risk having embarrassing confrontations when they make a purchase using a credit card or debit card that doesn’t reflect their true identity.

That’s why credit card companies – both payment network processors and card issuers – are starting to offer cards that enable transgender and nonbinary individuals to reflect their true identity. It mirrors a nationwide trend – for example, major airlines have started nonbinary gender options for booking flights.

Here is a look at the cards, how they work and how to get them.

Why True Identity Is Important

The term transgender describes people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were identified with at birth. Nonbinary individuals do not identify as male or female. The credit cards of transgender or nonbinary people might reflect their birth names but not match their current physical identities.

“For a trans person to have a debit card or credit card or any kind of financial account that has their preferred name on that documentation is huge,” says Andy Marra, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, a nonprofit whose mission is to end discrimination and achieve equality for transgender people, especially those in the most vulnerable communities. “It is an acknowledgment of who we are as people.”

Marra says cards with preferred names offer protection from identity scrutiny, hassle and discrimination for trans people as they go about their daily lives.

“Everyone should be able to open an account, have a debit card and credit card as a form of economic security and opportunity,” she says. “To have access to these very simple and necessary items is a huge boon for creating economic equality for transgender people in this country. More businesses should be looking at their practices to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for their customers, regardless of their gender.”

What Is the True Name Credit Card Feature?

In 2019, Mastercard introduced its True Name feature, which allows people to use the name they associate with on their card even if they haven’t yet legally changed their name. This feature can be used by credit card issuers who partner with Mastercard, and it affects only the first name.

Mastercard is the only credit card payment network processor to offer this feature.

“Issuers can work with their cardholders to determine what name should be on the card,” says Cheryl Guerin, executive vice president of North America marketing and communications for Mastercard.

Credit card issuers also ought to make sure all employees a customer might engage with – whether in a branch, on a customer service phone call or online – address people by their True Name, Guerin says.

How Can You Get a True Name Card?

Currently, the True Name credit cards are available only through BMO Harris Bank. Superbia Credit Union, an LGBTQ-focused financial institution, plans to introduce True Name cards across its Mastercard portfolio soon.

“We hope this initiative further sparks conversation, and we look forward to furthering the True Name initiative with additional partners in the future,” Guerin says.

BMO Harris’ True Name card can include a first name that’s different from a customer’s legal name, says Denise Press, managing director and head of retail and small business payments for BMO Harris Bank.

“We also advise our customers – whether checking, debit or credit card customers – that their legal name on their ID will remain documented on the account,” Press says.

To get a card, customers need to visit a BMO Harris branch or call customer service.

“It doesn’t require a legal name change on the ID,” Press says. “In fact, it’s a very straightforward process.”

When opening an account, a banker will ask the customer what the first name should be on the debit and/or credit card, Press says. For example, someone who has a legal name of Denise might instead prefer to go by the name Jason.

People are not asked to identify themselves as transgender or nonbinary to get BMO Harris’ True Name card. The name you are using cannot be fictitious, humorous or profane, according to the bank.

If a business asks a cardholder to verify the identity on the card, the cardholder can ask the merchant to call BMO Harris’ customer service.

Although other credit card issuers don’t go as far as BMO Harris in allowing differentiation between a credit card first name and an official name, some do allow for variation on first names.

For example, for more than five years, Chase has “allowed cardholders to use a different name on cards as long as it’s a reasonable derivative of their legal name,” says Shannon O’Reilly, a spokesperson for Chase.

Credit Card Names Are Just One Step

A True Name card is a step toward a new self-identity that is complete when people legally change their name. While it might be an easy process in some states, it’s quite arduous – involving lawyers and hundreds of dollars or more in costs – in others.

TLDEF’s Name Change Project provides pro bono legal name change services in partnership with many law firms and corporate law departments. More than 65% of the organization’s clients live below the federal poverty line, and almost 60% are transgender people of color, Marra says.

The True Name cards are an interim solution, helping to remedy a problem of legal recognition and identification for transgender people, especially if they live in an area where it is prohibitively expensive for them to change their legal name, Marra says.

“We advocate and will continue to advocate for improved name change processes for transgender and nonbinary people,” she says.

Marra would also like to see reforms from credit reporting bureaus that could help transgender and nonbinary people who might have their credit report and score negatively affected by a name change.

“Credit bureaus need to take the next step in making sure transgender people can change (their) names in credit reports without any adverse effects to their credit history,” Marra says.

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