Your Social Security number is an important set of digits used to track your lifetime earnings. It's also a key form of personal identification. In fact, you'll often hear how important it is to keep that number under wraps and be judicious about giving it out, because if it falls into the wrong hands, you could quickly become a victim of identity theft.
But while having someone steal your existence, so to speak, is an unquestionably bad thing to have happen, here's another unfortunate scenario you might have to worry about: having the Social Security Administration (SSA) erroneously declare you dead.
It's not an uncommon occurrence. Each year, the SSA mistakenly lists 6,000 people as deceased when they actually aren't. And often, people don't realize it until they try to apply for a loan or credit card, only to be shocked to learn that they're supposedly no longer among the living.
How do such mistakes happen? Unfortunately, all it takes is for the wrong number to get entered into the SSA's system to declare the wrong person dead. For example, if someone at the SSA receives a death certificate and updates the deceased's account, that employee could simply type in the wrong sequence of numbers and inadvertently wreak havoc on the finances of someone who's otherwise alive and well.
The consequences of being declared dead when you're not
Being declared dead by accident might seem like a funny thing to have happen, but actually, it's quite serious -- namely because of the financial nightmare you could then have on your hands. Proving you're alive is difficult when government records say otherwise. And until you manage to get things straightened out, you could face the following repercussions:
- Your monthly Social Security benefits are likely to stop.
- You'll likely be denied a loan or line of credit.
- You could be denied access to your own bank accounts.
- You could be denied the tax refund you'd normally be eligible for (in fact, your tax return will likely get rejected once you file it).
All of these could wreak havoc on your finances. Imagine not being able to access your own savings due to a clerical error. Unfortunately, marching up to a bank manager might not be enough to resolve the issue. Usually, you'll need to get the SSA to correct its mistake for things to return to normal.
Coming back from the not-really dead
If it comes to your attention that the SSA has mistakenly listed you as deceased, you'll need to correct that error at once, and you can do so by visiting your local Social Security office. You'll need to bring along documentation proving your existence, which could include your:
- Driver's license
- Military ID card
- School ID card
- Marriage or divorce record
- Adoption record
The SSA will insist on original versions of these documents or certified copies from the agencies that issued them. Photocopies won't fly, nor will expired documents.
Once the SSA corrects its mistake, it will provide you with a letter that you can give to banks and other agencies to prove that you are, in fact, alive. From there, you'll also want to keep tabs on your credit report to ensure that all information pertaining to your finances is updated for accuracy. Unfortunately, the process can take some time, so it's best to keep checking your credit report every few months to make sure the major reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) have the right information for you on file. You're entitled to a free copy from each bureau once a year, and checking them is an easy way to make for a smoother resurrection.