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Credit Freeze and Credit Lock: What’s the Difference?

Credit Score, Personal Finance
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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; indeed, they offer similar protections.

A key difference is that it’s easier to unlock a credit lock than it is to “thaw” a credit freeze.

When you freeze your credit at the three credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — you restrict access to your credit report so most lenders can’t see your information until you unfreeze it. Unfreezing your report can take a few days.

Similarly, when you lock your credit, you restrict most lenders’ access. But you can unlock your credit report immediately at any time.

The credit bureaus sometimes promote their credit lock services, which can cost a monthly fee, alongside their credit freeze options, which carry a one-time fee.

>>MORE: What’s on my credit report?

Compare credit freeze and credit lock

 Credit freezeCredit lock
  • One-time fee to freeze, typically less than $20. Separate fee to unfreeze, typically less than $10. Fees vary according to state laws.
  • If you're a victim of ID theft and have filed a report, freezes are free
  • Equifax freezes free until Jan. 31, 2018
  • TransUnion: Free
  • Equifax: $4.95/month; free lifetime service expected Jan. 2018
  • Experian: $4.99 for the first month; $24.99/month thereafter
What it doesNo one can view your credit report or open a new credit account in your name unless you unfreeze it. Existing creditors and debt collectors still have access.No one can view your credit report or open a new credit account in your name unless you unlock it. Existing creditors and debt collectors still have access.
When to use itWhen you believe your credit report and personal data have been exposedAs a preventive measure to guard your credit report and personal data
ProsYou have certain legal rights under state laws
  • You can receive alerts from credit bureaus if someone applies for credit in your name
  • You can lock or unlock your report immediately through a website or app
  • Your data can still be shared with third-party companies for pre-approval offers or marketing materials
  • Thawing your report typically takes a few days
  • You need to freeze reports at all three credit bureaus for maximum protection
  • Your data can still be shared with third-party companies for pre-approval offers or marketing materials
  • You may be giving up some consumer rights, such as the ability to file a class-action lawsuit against the credit bureau
  • You need to lock reports at all three credit bureaus for maximum protection

When to use a credit freeze

A credit freeze helps protect your credit report if you’re a victim of identity theft or believe your information has been compromised, as happened in the Equifax breach. You can thaw your credit report by giving direct authorization to the credit bureaus, usually through a PIN or password.

Freezing your credit report at all three bureaus is vital to fully protect your information. Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to do it for free — and it’s free in every state if you’re an identity theft victim and have filed a police report.

State laws require all three credit bureaus to offer a credit freeze option. “In some states, a violation of that state law might be privately enforceable; the consumer can sue in court over the legal violation,” says Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

You can still access your credit records and scores under a credit freeze. If you don’t already have a way to monitor your score regularly and report information, consider signing up on NerdWallet. Watching for a big, unexplained change can alert you to potential fraud.

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 — if you’re shopping for a home or car, for instance. This convenience costs a monthly fee until you cancel.

As with a credit freeze, a credit lock is most effective if you sign up at all three bureaus. Each one offers a slightly different version of the credit lock, so ask each one exactly what you’re signing up for.

  • Equifax calls its credit lock product Lock & Alert Plus. It also locks your TransUnion report. The company says it expects to release a free-for-life credit locking service in January 2018.
  • Experian’s CreditLock option includes identity theft insurance and alerts when information changes on your report at all three bureaus
  • TransUnion has two products: The free product, administered under TransUnion’s TrueIdentity brand, offers the lock/unlock option and other features, but the membership agreement includes a clause that prevents consumers from filing class-action lawsuits. Credit Lock costs $19.95 a month and is actually a credit monitoring service.

More on protecting your credit report from NerdWallet

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