Table of Contents
- Freezing your credit blocks creditors and most other entities from accessing your credit report, effectively preventing anyone from opening new credit in your name
- The credit bureaus are legally required to offer this service for free, and you should request a freeze with each one when you need it
- To freeze your credit, you’ll need to submit any required information and documentation online, by phone, or by mail with each bureau
- If you’re unsure about potential fraud, it may be better to start with a fraud alert before implementing a credit freeze
- A credit freeze doesn’t prevent someone from using your existing credit cards
When criminals get ahold of your sensitive personal information, they may attempt to apply for new credit in your name. A credit freeze allows you to block access to your credit report and prevent this type of identity theft.
The process for freezing your credit is relatively simple, and there’s no cost to do it. However, it’s important to understand how it works so you can avoid any mishaps along the way.
What Is A Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, is something every consumer can use to protect themselves against fraud and identity theft. When you place a freeze on your credit, it restricts access to your credit report, essentially blocking anyone (including you) from getting a loan or other credit in your name until you lift the freeze.
By law, you’re allowed to freeze your credit at no charge with each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. When you do, lenders can’t pull your credit to review it for loan applications. You can still access your credit report, and your existing creditors and some government agencies still have access, but new creditors do not.
Credit freezes are similar to another process known as a credit lock, but the latter is a special paid service offered by credit bureaus. A credit lock also blocks access to your credit report, but it may include other features such as identity theft insurance and regular access to your credit reports. Neither service hurts your credit scores.
A credit freeze is an effective tool for safeguarding your financial identity against unauthorized access. It’s especially useful in an era where data breaches and identity theft are increasingly common. Remember, while a freeze restricts new credit being opened in your name, it doesn’t affect your current accounts. Regularly monitoring your existing accounts is still essential for complete financial protection.
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Credit Freeze vs. Fraud Alert
A fraud alert is another tool you can use to guard against fraud and identity theft, but it’s a less extreme measure than a credit freeze. When you place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus, it requires them to verify any credit activity with you before releasing your credit report. This makes it easier to file legitimate credit applications without having to lift a credit freeze.
Standard fraud alerts last for one year, but you can file an extended fraud alert for seven years if you have a valid police or law enforcement agency report showing you are a victim of identity theft. Like credit freezes, fraud alerts are free to consumers.
In numerous instances, a fraud alert is a better first step if you’re unsure whether your identity has been compromised or you’ve had a credit card stolen. However, if you’re certain you’ve been compromised, a credit freeze may be the way to go. Just keep in mind that a freeze could make it difficult for you to get new credit. It can also result in higher insurance rates and make it difficult to create a mySocialSecurity account for Medicare or Social Security access.
Understanding the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert is important for effective credit management. While a freeze offers more protection by completely blocking access to your credit report, a fraud alert is a less restrictive measure, ensuring lenders verify your identity before extending credit. The choice between these depends on your specific situation and the level of security you feel is necessary.
Steps To Freeze Your Credit
Freezing your credit is fairly easy to do in just a few steps. Here’s what you’ll need to do.
Gather the Necessary Information
Before you reach out to the credit bureaus, be sure to gather any information and documentation you may need to expedite the process. This includes your Social Security number, date of birth, and address.
You may have to provide copies of documents such as your passport or driver’s license, tax documents, bank statements, and proof of address for further verification.
Contact Each Credit Bureau
Once you have everything you need, reach out to each of the three major credit bureaus. It’s important to contact all three, as a freeze doesn’t automatically carry over. Here’s how to contact each bureau:
- Equifax: Create an account and freeze your report online, call 1-888-298-0045, or mail this form and required documents to Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348-5788.
- Experian: Log into your online account and request a freeze, call 1-888-397-3742, or mail a request to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
- TransUnion: File a request online, call 1-800-916-8800, or mail your request to TransUnion, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094.
If you place your request by phone or online, the credit bureaus must freeze your credit within one business day. By mail, they have up to three business days.
How To Manage Your Credit Freeze
When you place a security freeze on your credit, you can lift it anytime. If you still suspect possible fraud or identity theft — or you simply prefer to keep your credit more secure — you can lift freezes temporarily. The easiest way to do this is by creating an online account with each bureau and toggling your credit freeze off and on as needed.
For instance, if you’re in the market for a new car and need to compare a few loans, you might thaw your credit for a month during that process. Or, if you need to file a single credit card application, you could find out which credit report the company will pull and lift the freeze at only that bureau.
Of course, this process of freezing and thawing your credit can be inconvenient, and you may even forget to re-freeze it after thawing and expose yourself to potential risks. However, if you want to permanently thaw your credit, you can do so online or by making your request by phone or by mail in the same ways noted above for each bureau.
Managing a credit freeze requires a balance between security and accessibility. If you anticipate needing to access new credit, like for a loan or credit card application, plan ahead to lift the freeze temporarily. This ensures a smoother process for legitimate credit inquiries. It’s also important to remember to re-freeze your credit afterward to maintain the level of security you desire.
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Keep A Close Eye On Your Credit
Freezing your credit can be a valuable tool for protecting yourself from identity theft and fraud. Keep in mind, however, that it’s not a foolproof solution. Thieves can still use credit cards you already have open, for instance, and you may forget to re-freeze your credit after thawing it. In some cases, a simple fraud alert is a better option.In any case, it’s important to monitor your credit report regularly and keep an eye out for suspicious activity. If you see any red flags, you should follow up immediately and consider freezing your credit until you can conduct a further investigation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Does Freezing Credit Affect My Ability To Get New Credit?
When you freeze your credit, lenders can’t pull your credit report to qualify you for a loan. You’ll usually need to thaw your credit before applying to avoid any roadblocks.
Can I Still Access My Credit Report After A Freeze?
Yes, you can still access your own credit report while it’s frozen. You’re legally entitled to one free copy of your report every year from each bureau, and you can pay for extra reports if need be.
Can I Still Use My Credit Card If I Freeze My Credit?
A credit freeze doesn’t block you (or thieves) from using an existing credit card. However, if you attempt to apply for a credit limit increase or some other change of terms, your application may be denied while your credit is frozen.
How Long Does A Credit Freeze Last?
Credit freezes stay in place until you remove them. You can do this online, by phone, or by mail.
Is There A Fee Associated With Freezing And Unfreezing Credit?
No. The credit bureaus are legally required to freeze your credit at no charge upon request.
Is Freezing Your Credit A Good Idea?
It depends on your situation and your ability to manage turning the freeze on and off as needed. If you don’t have strong evidence of fraud or identity theft, you might consider a fraud alert first, as this still allows you to apply for new credit and doesn’t interfere with insurance applications. Credit freezes can also make it difficult to create a mySocialSecurity account for Social Security or Medicare access, so it’s important to consider all factors involved before deciding.
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