For the 50+ Traveler

This article has been updated by Alaina Strollo to reflect the most recent deadlines and information as of October 1, 2019.

If you've flown in the past few years, you've undoubtedly seen signs at the airport warning that the IDs the TSA will accept as legitimate is about to change.

In January of 2018, the TSA was slated to toughen its rules. Fortunately, they extended their deadline to October 1, 2020. But that could still leave travelers in a lurch.

While most states currently issue cards that are compliant with federal regulations, three states still don’t -- or are still in the process of coming into compliance. This means residents of those states may have less time to obtain their REAL ID before the deadline.

Here's everything you need to know about the changing TSA guidelines, who they affect, how to tell if your license is compliant, and what to do if it isn't.

Why Is TSA Doing This?

In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act as a result of the 9/11 Commission. One of the Commission's key recommendations was that the federal government should set more stringent security standards for state ID cards. In the past 13 years, all states have taken steps to improve their cards. However, the provisions of REAL ID have been introduced in phases, and some states have fallen short of compliance.

While TSA has extended its deadline for all states until October 1, 2020, and while they may well issue another extension, there's no guarantee that they will.

What's The Difference?

As is usual whenever change is introduced, some people are worried that the government is doing it to gain more power or even build some kind of citizen database. For whatever it's worth, Homeland Security strenuously denies this.

The main difference between regular old state-issued ID and REAL ID is the amount of information the state collects before issuing the card, and the amount of information visible on the card.

Before the state can issue a driver's license that is REAL ID-compliant, the applicant must present photo ID and/or ID which includes a full name and birth date -- a birth certificate, basically. Other requirements include proof of citizenship status, Social Security number, and proof of address. Compliant IDs must also include the bearer's signature, sex, a serial number, and enhanced anti-counterfeiting measures.

As of October 2, 2019, only three states are running behind on issuing the new IDs: Oregon, Oklahoma, and New Jersey.

How To Tell If A Card Is Compliant

As we mentioned, there are several requirements for state IDs under the new guidelines: they must have your signature, a unique serial number, state your sex, etc.

However, there is one simple way to tell whether or not your driver's license is REAL ID compliant. There's a telltale star in the top right-hand corner of compliant ID cards.

For example, this card is good to go:

Sample Wisconsin driver's license REAL ID compliant
Image: SFGate.

Meanwhile, this card, which doesn’t have a yellow star, is noncompliant:

Sample California driver's license REAL ID non-compliant
Image: SFGate.

What Do I Need To Do?

It's possible the TSA will give remaining states another delay, but it's also possible they won't. And nobody wants to get turned away at the gate for having an ineligible driver's license. To prepare for the new policy in October of 2020, head over to the DMV sooner rather than later and get your REAL ID.