Deep breath not enough to persuade credit bureaus you are alive

May 12 2012 - 11:22am

Joe was dead. I don't believe in ghosts, but there he sat in my office.

For a dead person, Joe was quite articulate. He also seemed quite real. Unfortunately for Joe, the credit bureaus Transunion, Equifax and Experian all said he was dead.

Joe found out he was dead when he went to get a loan on his house. The mortgage lender told Joe, "I'm sorry we can't give you a loan, you are dead."

The box for credit score read "NOT SCORED SUBJECT DECEASED."

When you are reduced to a number (credit score), bad things happen when your number is lost, in this case to a premature pronouncement of death.

If Google is any indication, Joe is not alone. A Nebraska teenager can't get student loans because he is "dead;" a New Jersey grandmother can't get a Target card because she has been "dead" for six years. Arthur Livingston, of Prosperity, S.C., even posted a YouTube video to prove to Bank of America that he was not deceased.

Joe and I prepared a letter to the three credit bureaus, complete with a copy of his driver's license, a recent pay stub (Joe is a productive dead guy) and birth certificate.

I figured that would be the end of it and, within 30 days, that Joe would be resurrected and able to refinance his house. Not surprisingly, resurrection is a difficult task for credit bureaus.

Our response from all three credit bureaus was the same: "No, Joe is still dead."

The credit bureau has checked with the Social Security Administration, and no payments have been made in 30 years on Joe's Social Security number, just like you would expect from a dead guy.

The reason no payments had been made to the Social Security Administration was Joe has been working for a railroad for all of the last 30 years.

Railroad employees have a separate government retirement plan and do not contribute to Social Security, a fact lost on the credit bureaus who had his railroad pay stub.

According to the bureaus, only the Social Security Administration can prove you are alive.

You are a credit score number to your lender, and you are a Social Security number to the credit bureau, which creates the number to give to your lender.

Anywhere in that incestuous number cycle, a breakdown terminates the loan.

Our only option was to go to court.

Joe was in a pending case with me, so we filed a "Motion for Order That Joe is Alive." I asked the court for an order that Joe be declared alive and kicking, so he could obtain credit like a normal, living human being. The motion was scheduled for a hearing.

Joe and I were at the hearing. Our motion contained all of the supporting documentation. I anticipated a quick hearing. Judge looks down, sees breathing client and declares him alive.

But I was wrong.

Judge B, always the skeptic, made Joe testify. Joe was sworn in and stated his name. I asked him if he was alive. He said yes.

I rested.

Judge B asked him another couple of questions and then she ordered him alive.

The minute entry on the court's docket read: "Motion for Entry of Order That the Debtor is Alive. Motion granted."

It was a miracle.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be contacted at 801-392-8200 or

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