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 freeze||Credit lock|
|What it does||No 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 it||When you believe your credit report and personal data have been exposed||As a preventive measure to guard your credit report and personal data|
|Pros||You have certain legal rights under state laws||
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.
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