Credit Freeze vs. Lock: How They Compare and When to Use Them

Credit freezes and credit locks both block unauthorized access to your credit reports. Freezes are free and may afford more legal protections.
Amrita Jayakumar
Lauren Schwahn
By Lauren Schwahn and  Amrita Jayakumar 
Edited by Kathy Hinson

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A credit freeze and a credit lock are two ways to protect your credit reports from being used by scammers to open new accounts.

You may see the terms “credit freeze” and “credit lock” used interchangeably, and they do offer similar protections. The three major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion —sometimes promote their credit lock services, which can carry a monthly fee, alongside their credit freeze options, which are free. A key difference is that it can be faster to unlock a credit lock than to “thaw” a credit freeze. But a freeze may afford legal protections that a lock doesn't.

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What are credit freezes and credit locks?

When you freeze your credit at the credit bureaus, you restrict access to your credit report so most lenders can’t see your information until you unfreeze it. Since a creditor is unlikely to open a new account in your name without checking your credit, that protects you from fraudulent accounts. Unfreezing your report may require the use of a password-protected account or a PIN. Requesting a freeze online or over the phone typically takes just a few minutes, but it could take longer for the freeze to go into effect.

Similarly, when you lock your credit, you restrict most lenders’ access. But you can unlock your credit report immediately at any time, on your computer or mobile device, when you do want to allow access. With a lock, you’ll also usually receive alerts if your credit report changes or someone tries to access your report.

Credit freeze vs. lock

Credit freeze

Credit lock


Free at each bureau.

  • TransUnion: $29.95 per month as part of TransUnion’s Credit Monitoring services.

  • Equifax: Free

  • Experian: first seven days free, then $24.99 per month for a service that includes credit lock; no stand-alone lock available.

How long it takes to go into effect

  • Within one business day when done online or by phone, but often instantly.

  • Within three business days after a request is received by mail.

Usually instantly.

How long it lasts

Until you thaw it.

As long as you use the service.

How long it takes to remove

  • No longer than an hour after an online or phone request is received.

  • Within three business days after a request is received by mail.

Usually instantly.

When to use it

  • When you believe your credit report and personal data have been exposed.

  • NerdWallet recommends freezes for most consumers, because the risk of exposure is high.

As a preventive measure to guard your credit report and personal data.

When to use a credit freeze

A credit freeze helps protect your credit report. It’s a smart option if you’re a victim of identity theft or believe your information has been compromised, as happened in the 2017 Equifax data breach. NerdWallet recommends freezes for most consumers as a preventive measure.

Federal law requires credit bureaus to offer free credit freezes and unfreezes. You can also freeze your child's credit for free.

You can thaw your credit report with each of the credit bureaus through a password-protected online account, a phone call or sending a request along with verifying information by mail.

Freezing your credit report at all three bureaus is vital to fully protecting your information. Here's our guide to freezing your Experian report, your Equifax report and your TransUnion report.

You can still access your credit records and scores under a credit freeze without hurting your score. If you don’t already have a way to regularly monitor your score and report information, consider signing up with NerdWallet for a free credit report summary, updated weekly.

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Monitor your credit, track your spending and see all of your finances together in a single place.

When to use a credit lock

You can use a credit lock as a preventive measure to protect your information or when your information has been compromised. Its convenience lets you quickly allow lenders access to your report and then immediately lock it again — if you’re shopping for a home or car, for instance.

Unlike a freeze, locks are not governed by federal law. Service agreements for each bureau make it clear that the companies don’t guarantee error-free operation or uninterrupted service.

As with a credit freeze, a credit lock is most effective if in place at all three bureaus.

You can sign up for a credit lock at each bureau’s website and also access the respective app to lock or unlock your credit report. Each one offers a slightly different version of the credit lock, so check exactly what you’re signing up for.

  • Equifax’s free credit lock product is called Lock & Alert. The company says it will be free for life. The terms of service do not include an arbitration clause or class action lawsuit waiver; that means you don't sign away your option to sue or join a lawsuit.

  • Experian's CreditLock is bundled with an Experian CreditWorks Premium membership for $24.99 a month. The subscription includes a credit lock, identity theft insurance and alerts when information changes on your report at all three bureaus. Its terms of service include an arbitration clause and class action waiver.

  • TransUnion’s Credit Monitoring service, at $29.95 per month, offers the lock/unlock option for TransUnion and Equifax credit reports.