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How to Replace Vital Documents

Maybe you’ve not always been very organized. Maybe documents got lost in a move or fire. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself needing to replace vital documents such as a birth certificate or passport, don’t despair! It can be done.

Social Security Card

Often, providing your social security number is sufficient, but there are times when you may still have to show the actual card. When starting a new job, registering for college classes, or applying for Medicaid, you may be asked to present it.

You can get an original Social Security card or a replacement card if yours is lost or stolen online. You can use this option if you:

  • Are a U.S. citizen age 18 years or older with a U.S. mailing address
  • Are not requesting a name change or any other change to your card; and
  • Have a driver’s license or a state-issued identification card from one of the many participating states (Some states do not participate, so check to see if your state is one of them)

If you cannot apply online, visit your local social security office. You will have to complete a one-page application and present an original identifying document. Acceptable documents include driver’s license, passport, record of marriage or divorce, etc. If you were born outside the US, you will have to prove citizenship or lawful alien status. Photocopies are not accepted.

There is no charge for a new card, and the application process is fairly quick. However, you will not receive the new card that same day. It will be mailed to you within two weeks. If you need something more quickly, ask for a printout on their letterhead verifying the replacement.

Birth Certificate

Birth certificates (for you or your children) are required to get a passport, driver’s license, marriage license, and apply for private and government benefits.

You may think that you can obtain a birth certificate from the hospital where you were born, but that’s often the tougher route to success. Instead, start with the vital records office in that state/county.

They will ask you to provide some information. This may include name, birth gender, parents’ names, place of birth, and birth date. You may also be asked to provide a photo ID or other form of verification. Fees for a birth certificate vary, so be sure to ask.


In addition to international travel, passports will be required in the US for domestic flights and to enter US federal buildings such as courthouses. (You may also use a REAL ID except in the case of international flights.) Real ID has been pushed back until October 1, 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic; find out more here.

If you need to replace your unexpired passport, you will need to visit a passport processing facility in person. Renewals of current passports can be done by mail.

You will need to provide several documents to replace your passport: proof of citizenship, proof of identity, two passport photos, and completed application forms. Fees vary based on the type of passport, so look at the fee schedule before you go.

Typical replacements take four to six weeks. Try to plan accordingly. For an additional fee, they can be expedited to two weeks.

Tax Returns

When applying for a mortgage or other loan, you may be asked to provide tax returns for the prior two years. 

If you use tax software such as TurboTax, you should be able to log in and download/print anything you need. If you have a tax professional, they likely have copies. In the event that neither of these is true, you can request a copy from the IRS using form 4506 and a fee of $50 (as of this posting) per return.

Be aware that the wheels of government turn slowly here, too. Plan on at least 60 days to get the requested copies.

School Transcripts

If you’re applying to grad school or taking certain board exams, you may need a transcript.

Again, contact the school you graduated from. Each school has different processing times, requirements, and fees for providing them. Some may even be able to send them directly to the requesting school or board.

College Diploma

Legally speaking, there’s probably no reason you need this. But if you want to have a copy of your diploma, contact the alumni department of your college. They will tell you the requirements and fees for your school or direct you to someone who can. If you’re searching for help finding your high school diploma, try this link.

Property Deed

The deed proves you own the property. If you’re selling or refinancing your home, you’ll need to have it. The deed is also necessary if you’re transferring the title for estate planning.

The first place to start is with the lawyer or closing company who handled the transaction when you bought your home. If they don’t have one or are no longer in business, check with the county clerk’s office. If they aren’t able to assist you, you can hire a title company to do the search for you.

To expedite the process, provide the tax map ID number in addition to your street address. If you make the request yourself, there’s usually no fee. Title search companies will charge, so get several quotes.

Depending on where you live, you may also be able to access this information online. Check with your clerk’s office for more information about your area.

In most cases, it takes about 10 – 15 days to get the requested copy.

Car Title

If you’re selling your vehicle, you’ll need to have the title to transfer ownership. 

You can easily obtain a copy of your car’s title through your state’s DMV. You will need to provide ID, VIN, and registration information as well as pay a fee, which varies by state.

It may take as little as four days or much longer, depending on where you live.

Have you ever had to request any of these vital documents? How was the process for you?

For tips on setting up a filing system and storing important records, check out this post.

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