How to Freeze Your Credit Reports
Headlines have been filled with a string of security breaches over the past few years. If you’re one of the millions affected, you may be wondering what, if anything, you can do to help protect yourself should your personal data fall into the wrong hands.
One thing that may help is freezing your credit. Even if you weren’t impacted by the latest data breach, freezing your credit may still be a good idea because it could help prevent identity thieves from opening credit in your name.
What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze, also called a “security freeze,” restricts access to your credit reports. Freezing your credit makes it difficult for someone other than you to open a new account in your name because lenders generally check your credit before issuing a loan or credit card. If a lender tries to pull your credit report and can’t because your credit is frozen, the application process typically stops—which is great if the person trying to open the account is someone other than you. But if you want to apply for a loan or line of credit, you’ll need to lift the freeze until your application is complete.
Freezing your credit doesn’t impact your existing accounts or affect your credit score. And it doesn’t freeze everyone out. You, your current creditors, and debt collectors acting on your current creditors’ behalf will still be able to access your credit reports. Government agencies may also have access if they’re responding to a search warrant, subpoena, or court or administrative orders.
Even after freezing your credit reports, it’s a good idea to continue monitoring them to ensure that all the information reflected in them is accurate. By law, you’re entitled to a free copy from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. You can obtain yours at AnnualCreditReport.com.
How to freeze your credit
You must contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion®—separately to freeze your credit with each agency. Freezing your credit with only one will not freeze it with the other two.
You can submit your request online, by phone, or via mail. If you submit your request online or over the phone, the credit reporting agency is required to place the freeze within one business day. If you submit your request by mail, they must place the freeze within three business days of receiving your request.
To freeze your credit, you need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and other personal information. You must also create a PIN that will be required to lift the freeze—either temporarily or permanently.
Does it cost anything to freeze your credit?
A federal law that went into effect on September 21, 2018, just over a year after the major Equifax data breach, makes freezing and unfreezing your credit free in all 50 states. Before this law went into effect, credit reporting agencies charged anywhere from $3 to $12 to freeze or unfreeze a credit report in nearly half the states in the U.S.
How to unfreeze your credit
If you want to apply for credit, it’s a good idea to lift the freeze before you apply so the lender can access your credit reports and process your application in a timely manner. Just like the process for freezing your credit, unfreezing it can be done online, over the phone, or by mail.
To lift the freeze, you must provide the PIN you created when you froze your credit. You can unfreeze your credit temporarily or permanently. If you want to lift the freeze temporarily, you can refreeze your credit after the lender has checked your credit, or you can specify how long you want your credit to be unfrozen. If you choose the latter option, make sure the timeline you provide gives you and your lender enough time to complete the application process.
When to freeze your credit
If your personal information was compromised in a security breach, it’s probably a good idea to freeze your credit, especially if your Social Security number was accessed or you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft. If you’re willing to live with the inconvenience of lifting the freeze when you need to apply for a loan, you may want to consider freezing your credit even if your information hasn’t been compromised. Data breaches are a common occurrence these days, and you never know when someone may gain unauthorized access to sensitive personal and financial data.
While freezing your credit won’t prevent unauthorized use of your existing accounts, it can help prevent identity thieves and other perpetrators of fraud from opening new accounts in your name. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of freezing your credit to decide whether it’s worth it to you. But if you do choose to freeze your credit, be prepared to do a little extra lifting—as in lifting the freeze—if and when you decide to apply for new credit.