If you are a victim of identity theft or worried you might be, a credit freeze can be a powerful tool to help keep your finances safe. However, if you need to allow quick access to your credit, a freeze will slow the process down. Not sure if a freeze is right for you? The guide below can give you the information you need to help you make the choice.
What is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is a security measure that restricts access to your credit file. While a freeze is in place, no new accounts can be opened in your name until you lift the freeze. You, your pre-existing creditors and some other entities, like debt collectors, will still have access to your file. So if you want to ask to raise the limit on your credit card, the company can still look at your credit report to make that decision. However, anyone else will be kept out. This can help shield against identity theft. If someone tries to fraudulently use your information to open a line of credit, they won’t be able to do so.
When Should I Freeze My Credit?
Most people freeze their credit when they are a victim of identity theft or are at high risk of identity theft. When the credit bureau, Equifax, was hacked in 2017, highly sensitive information was revealed including names, social security numbers and birthdates. These details can be all a thief needs to fraudulently open credit in your name. If your identity has been stolen, you suspect fraudulent activity related to your financial accounts or if you have been part of a data breach that revealed sensitive information, you may want to consider a credit freeze.
When Should I Not Freeze My Credit?
A credit freeze might seem like a no-brainer, but there are downsides. If you need to do something that requires a credit check, like applying for a loan or opening a new cellular service account, you’ll need to unfreeze your account first. You can freeze and unfreeze your account as much of you want, but it requires reaching out to each bureau. If you know an entity will need access to your credit soon, you may want to hold off.
Does a Credit Freeze Protect Me from All Identity Theft?
A credit freeze only protects you from thieves trying to use your name to open new lines of credit. They can still try other ways to pose as you to access your finances, like filing taxes under your name or using your credit card details.
How Do I Freeze My Credit?
You will need to contact each of the three credit bureaus to request a credit freeze. They will process the request, lock your credit reports and give you a PIN. Make sure to memorize the PIN since it is required to unfreeze your account. To contact the bureaus, use one of the methods below:
- Online: Follow the directions on this page
- By mail: Download this form and follow the directions at the top
- Online: Follow the directions on this page
- By mail: Transunion does not provide directions for freezing by mail on their site but you can find the address and information you’ll need to provide towards the end of this page
How Long is a Credit Freeze Good For?
In most states, a credit freeze lasts until you lift it. There is no time limit. However, in Kentucky, Nebraska and Pennsylvania, the freeze will automatically expire after seven years.
How Do I Unfreeze My Credit?
To unfreeze your credit, you’ll need to reach back out to the bureaus, request to lift the freeze and provide the PIN you were given. The lift will happen within an hour by phone or online, or within three days by mail. You can unfreeze temporarily or indefinitely.
How Much Does a Credit Freeze Cost?
Credit freezes are free thanks to a new federal law that went into effect in September 2018. Prior to this law, freezing and unfreezing your credit in certain states could cost up to ten dollars—sometimes per request.
While it is illegal to charge for a credit freeze, credit bureaus offer a similar service called a credit lock. This service may have additional features that a credit freeze does not, like identity theft insurance, but it usually costs money. If you are ever asked to pay specifically for a credit freeze be very wary. Make sure you are contacting a legitimate credit bureau and not someone that might be posing as one.
What are the Pros and Cons to a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze can be an effective tool in helping keep your identity safe, but there are some downsides. Here are some of the main pros and cons:
- It helps protect you from identity theft
- Activities with your current credit accounts, like asking for a higher credit limit, are still allowed
- It’s free
- Unfreezing is now legally required to happen in less than an hour
- It takes extra steps for you to give access for a credit check
- A PIN must be memorized and kept safe in order to unfreeze your account
- It does not prevent all identity theft
- Each credit bureau must be contacted for the freeze to be most effective
Does a Credit Freeze Affect My Credit Score?
A credit freeze has no effect on your credit score. However, it also doesn’t prevent your score from being affected. Things like increasing your credit limit or late payments will still impact your score.
What are the Alternatives to a Credit Freeze?
If a credit freeze seems like it will interfere too much with your life, a fraud alert can be a good alternative. It alerts you if there are changes to your credit but does not restrict access to your file. However, it doesn’t provide as much security. You can learn more about the differences between a fraud alert and credit freeze here.
Your credit is an important part of your financial life that is important to protect. Unfortunately many people don’t take safety measures until it’s too late. If you are a victim of identity theft, there are ways to return your credit to good standing. Learn more about fixing your credit after identity theft.