Table of Contents
- Credit freezes are a great reactive measure to prevent access to your credit file.
- Credit locks are a great proactive measure to keep your credit file safe before something happens.
- Credit freezes are free, while credit locks often come with a cost.
- Neither a credit freeze nor a credit lock will harm your credit score.
Credit Freeze vs. Credit Lock
A credit freeze is ideal for temporarily halting access to your credit file. A credit lock is better for protecting your credit file as a preventative measure.
|To stop access to your credit file.
|To prevent access to your credit file.
|Contact each of the three major credit bureaus and request a freeze. This can take one or more business days.
|Log in to the credit locking service you’ve selected and initiate a lock for each credit bureau.
|Ideal Time to Use
|If you think your personal information has been stolen.
|As a preventative measure to protect your credit file.
|Credit freezes are covered by Federal Law. If access to your credit file occurs during the freeze, you will not be held financially responsible.
|Credit locks require an agreement between you and the credit reporting agency. There are no federal protections.
|Free through all three major credit bureaus.
|Free or paid, depends on the service provider.
Credit Freeze: Features and Benefits
A credit freeze is a free, temporary pause in access to your credit file. To initiate a freeze, you’ll need to call each of the three major credit bureaus one-by-one.
If you initiate a credit freeze with Experian, you’ll receive a PIN number that allows you access to your credit information. With Equifax and TransUnion, you’ll receive a PIN if you initiate the freeze via phone or mail. Otherwise, you’ll receive a password.
You’ll need to keep the PIN or password somewhere safe. If you’d like to “thaw” your file, your only way to do so is by entering this information. This process is often more time-consuming than locking your credit.
That said, a credit freeze may be more ideal for victims of identity theft or those with compromised information. Given that the process is governed by federal law, if your file were to be accessed during the freeze, you won’t be held financially liable.
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Pros and Cons of a Credit Freeze
|Credit freezes are free at each of the three major credit bureaus.
|It’s often more time-consuming to initiate a freeze.
|Governed by federal law.
|You’ll need to keep track of the PIN or password you receive.
To initiate a credit freeze at all three bureaus, call them directly:
- Equifax: 1-888-378-4329
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
Credit Lock: Features and Benefits
Credit locks are typically offered by credit bureaus or third-party services. While credit freezes are free, credit locks may come with an additional fee. This also means that each service will offer a slightly different experience.
That said, credit locks are more convenient than credit freezes. You won’t need to obtain a PIN, and you’ll be able to lock and unlock your credit file on your own.
While convenient to have immediate control of your file, credit locks don’t come with the same protections as credit freezes. Each credit bureau has their own credit lock agreement, meaning the fine print may differ from bureau to bureau. Credit locks also aren’t governed or protected by federal law like credit freezes. This means that if your file were accessed despite the lock, it isn’t clear who would be liable for the losses.
Pros and Cons of a Credit Lock
|You can lock and unlock your credit instantly via your mobile phone or computer.
|Not governed by federal law.
|Great preventative measure for keeping your credit file safe.
|May require a subscription fee.
Some of the most popular credit lock services include:
Who Can Access a Frozen Credit File?
Existing creditors and collection agencies acting on their behalf can access your frozen file. According to the Department of Justice, they’ll use the information to review or collect on your account. Government agencies may also obtain access for the purpose of collecting child support payment or taxes.
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Bottom Line: Which Is Better, a Credit Freeze or a Credit Lock?
Given the federal protections, credit freezes are the stronger option. That said, credit locks are valuable as a preventative measure in protecting your credit file. If you have concerns about your credit file, initiate a free credit freeze before pursuing a paid credit lock.
Keep in mind that when you initiate either a credit freeze or lock, you’ll need to do so at all three major credit bureaus. Unfortunately, there isn’t an option to freeze or lock across the board in one click.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the costs associated with credit freezes and credit locks?
Federal law requires that credit freezes must be free. Credit locks, however, aren’t governed by federal law and can range in price. For example, Lock & Alert by Equifax is free, while CreditLock by Experian is $24.99 per month.
How quickly can a credit lock be unlocked compared to a credit freeze?
Credit can be unlocked almost instantly. Credit freezes may take up to three business days to “thaw.”
Are there different versions of credit locks offered by various credit bureaus?
Credit locks aren’t governed by federal law. This means that each credit bureau can offer a different credit lock service with unique terms and pricing.
Does freezing your credit prevent identity theft?
A credit freeze can help prevent criminals from opening new accounts in your name. However, it doesn’t do anything to protect the accounts you already have open. For example, if an individual were to steal your credit card, they could still make changes to the card.
Does locking your credit hurt your credit score?
No, credit locks do not hurt your credit score.
Is there a downside to freezing your credit?
A credit freeze can’t hurt your score, but it can give you a false sense of security. Given that identity theft and fraud are still possibilities, you’ll still need to maintain safe financial practices.
Find out more
- Credit Score Limits – Understand what the lowest credit score means for your financial life.
- Credit Repair Expenditure – Learn about the financial aspect of credit repair.
- Updating Credit Report Information – How to keep your credit report information current and accurate.
- Credit Checks Decoded – Discover the impact of different types of credit inquiries.
- Choosing a Credit Repair Company – Key considerations for selecting a credit repair service.
- Determinants of Credit Score – Explore the factors that influence your credit score.
- Targeting a Good Credit Score – Define and strive for a healthy credit score.
- Insights into Credit Monitoring – The importance of keeping a watchful eye on your credit.