Freezing your credit is the best way to keep criminals from accessing your credit without your consent.
If you want to freeze your credit, you’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus individually; each has a slightly different process. Generally, you need to provide your Social Security number, birthdate and other information confirming your identity.
How to freeze your credit
- Experian: Call 888‑397‑3742 or go online. Here’s a detailed walk-through on a credit freeze with Experian.
In most cases, you’ll have to pay to initiate the freeze. Equifax is offering free credit freezes and credit freeze lifts through June 30 in the wake of a data breach last year that affected about 148 million consumers.
Once a credit freeze is in place, it secures your credit file so nobody can access it unless you give direct authorization to the credit bureaus, usually through a PIN.
Store your PIN in a secure location. If you misplace it, you may not be able to undo the freeze when you need to.
Once a credit freeze is in place, it secures your credit file so nobody can access it unless you give direct authorization to the credit bureaus.
You also may have to pay to unfreeze your credit anytime you wish to give someone access, such as allowing potential employers, utilities or landlords to check your credit, or when you apply for a credit card, loan or mortgage.
The costs of freezing and thawing your credit will depend on your state’s laws. It’s relatively low — typically less than $20. And in some states it’s free, or free for identity theft victims or senior citizens.
The United States Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy group, has a state-by-state guide to show costs.
What is a credit freeze?
A freeze makes your credit reports inaccessible to most people, with some exceptions:
- You can access your own records, including getting your free annual credit report
- Pre-existing creditors and debt collectors still have access
A freeze has no effect on your credit score.
Last year’s Equifax data breach offers a compelling case for freezing your credit unless there’s a good reason not to. If you think your data may have been compromised, especially your all-important Social Security number, get a credit freeze.
What are the pros of freezing my credit?
If you’re dealing with identity theft, freezing your credit can offer peace of mind. No one will be able to open credit accounts in your name, which can save you the hassle and cost that come with having your identity stolen.
Identity-theft victims won’t have to pay freezing fees, and putting a freeze on your credit won’t hurt your credit score.
If you have a mortgage and aren’t planning on moving in the near future, if you don’t need a car loan or new credit card, and if you don’t have an adult child who needs a co-signer, a credit freeze can be a good option for you.
What are the cons of freezing my credit?
Freezing your credit generally costs money, and it’s inconvenient: You may have to pay each credit bureau to impose the freeze and to lift the freeze temporarily when you need a credit approval.
If a thief steals the information on an existing account, your credit may be used without your permission.
Also, you may still be susceptible to credit fraud. A credit freeze won’t affect your current accounts. So if a thief steals the information on an existing account, your credit may be used without your permission.
If a freeze isn’t right for you, a less draconian alternative is a 90-day fraud alert, which tells potential creditors to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. You simply notify one credit bureau that you want a fraud alert, and you’ll get one at all three bureaus. And it’s free.
You’re entitled to at least one free credit report from each credit bureau every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s wise to request and read them thoroughly every year. A freeze does not bar your access.
In between, use a source of a free credit report and score, such as NerdWallet, where you can sign in and review things as often as you like.
Updated April 16, 2018.