These days, it’s important to protect yourself from credit and identity fraud. That’s where credit freezes come in. A credit freeze can help you ward off identity thieves and save a lot of money and frustration in the future. Let's take a closer look at what a credit freeze is and how it works.
What is a credit freeze?
Also known as a security freeze, a credit freeze places a lock on your credit report. A credit freeze can stop someone from opening a credit card or loan in your name without your permission. If you’d like to prevent your identity from being stolen, a credit freeze may be worth pursuing.
What happens when you freeze your credit?
When you freeze your credit, credit reporting agencies can’t reveal your credit to anyone requesting it. This means lenders won’t extend credit to you or anyone pretending to be you. Put simply, a credit freeze helps prevent new credit accounts from being opened in your name.
Credit freeze vs. credit lock
While the terms credit freeze and credit lock are similar, there are a few differences between the two. Both a credit freeze and credit lock can restrict access to your credit reports. But a credit freeze is free under federal law, whereas a credit lock is a product that is typically offered at a fee. You can also activate or disable a credit lock instantly through a special app or website, whereas it may take more time to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
Pros and cons of freezing your credit
A credit freeze comes with several benefits and drawbacks, including:
Pro: Protects you from scammers
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft or would like to protect against it, a credit freeze can be a good idea. You’ll likely experience fewer attempts of fraud when your credit is frozen.
Pro: Won’t affect your credit score
A credit freeze won’t impact your credit in any way. You can freeze your credit without worrying about having a lower credit score.
Freezing your credit used to cost money, but fortunately, this is no longer the case. The credit reporting agencies are legally required to offer credit freezes for free.
Con: Not 100% effective
By freezing your credit, you can prevent someone from opening an account in your name without your permission. While a credit freeze may protect against credit fraud, it won’t protect you from having your identity stolen. For instance, let’s say someone steals your credit card number. Unfortunately, a credit freeze won’t stop them from making unauthorized purchases with your card.
Con: You’ll need to lift the freeze when applying for new credit
If you decide to apply for credit with a credit freeze, you’ll need to lift it temporarily or permanently. Otherwise, the lender won’t be able to view your reports during their credit check.
How to freeze your credit
Here are some steps you can take to freeze your credit:
1. Gather relevant documents: Before you begin the credit freeze process, make sure you have your Social Security number and a photo ID, like a driver’s license or passport, on hand. You might also need to provide proof of residence, like a recent utility bill.
2. Contact the credit bureaus: To place a credit freeze on your credit files, you’ll need to reach out to each of the three credit reporting agencies directly online, by phone, or in writing. Here’s their contact information:
- Equifax: Call 800-685-1111, go to the website, or mail your request to: Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348.
- Experian: Call 888-397-3742, go to the website, or mail your request to: Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
- TransUnion: Call 888-909-8872, go to the website, or mail your request to: TransUnion P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094.
3. Wait for your PIN: Once you confirm your identity and make the request, you’ll receive a PIN. Keep your PIN in a safe place because you may need it eventually to unfreeze your account.
How to unfreeze your credit
To unfreeze your credit reports, contact the bureaus you used to freeze them online or by phone. While you can also notify them of your request by mail, doing so will take longer. Note that you’ll likely need to provide the PIN or password you received when you first froze your credit.
Can I get a loan with a credit freeze?
If you want to apply for a loan, you’ll have to request a temporary lift of your credit freeze. This can allow lenders to access your credit reports when they determine whether you qualify for the loan. If your credit account is frozen and they’re unable to check your credit, they may reject your application.
Should I freeze my credit?
A credit freeze may make sense if you think your personal information has been compromised or you’ve been a victim of identity theft. But if you’re actively looking for a loan or a credit card, you might want to wait to freeze your credit. Do some research and consider your options and financial situation when deciding whether freezing your credit is the right choice for you.