Advertiser Disclosure

Credit Lock vs. Credit Freeze: What’s the Difference?

It’s simpler to unlock a credit lock than it is to “thaw” a credit freeze. But a freeze may afford legal protections that a lock does not.
Credit Score, Personal Finance
credit-lock-and-credit-freeze
At NerdWallet, we adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

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 simpler to unlock a credit lock than it is to “thaw” a credit freeze. But a freeze may afford legal protections that a lock doesn’t.

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. 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 requires the use of a 10-digit PIN and can cost up to $10 per report.

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.

The credit bureaus sometimes promote their credit lock services, which can carry a monthly fee, alongside their credit freeze options, which may cost consumers a fee each time they freeze or unfreeze, depending on state, age and whether they are an identity theft victim.

>>SIGN UP: Monitor your credit score for free

Compare credit freeze and credit lock

 Credit freezeCredit lock
Cost
• One-time fee to freeze, typically less than $10. 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 at least June 30, 2018
TransUnion: Free

Equifax: Free

Experian: first 30 days free, then $9.99 per month for a service that includes credit lock; no standalone lock available
When to use it• When you believe your credit report and personal data have been exposed.

• 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 Equifax breach. NerdWallet recommends freezes for most consumers as a preventative measure.

You can thaw your credit report by giving direct authorization to each of the credit bureaus, usually through a 10-digit PIN. Forgetting or losing that number can complicate and/or delay unfreezing credit.

Freezing your credit report at all three bureaus is vital to fully protecting your information.

Freezing your credit report at all three bureaus is vital to fully protecting 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 regularly monitor your score and report information, consider signing up with 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 and then immediately lock it again — if you’re shopping for a home or car, for instance.

As with a credit freeze, a credit lock is most effective if you sign up at all three bureaus.

Unlike a freeze, locks are not governed by state 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 you sign up 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 bundles its credit lock with other services. The least expensive option,  IdentityWorks Plus at $9.99 a month, includes a credit lock, identity theft insurance and alerts when information changes on your report at all three bureaus. Its terms of service do include an arbitration clause and class action waiver.
  • TransUnion’s free product, administered under TransUnion’s TrueIdentity brand, offers the lock/unlock option and other features, but the service agreement does include an arbitration clause and class action waiver. It also requires users to agree to receive targeted marketing materials.

A credit lock may be attractive to consumers deterred by the cost of a security freeze. “There’s no way we would say ‘Get a lock instead of a freeze,’” Wu said. “But it’s better than nothing.”

Updated Feb. 8, 2018.

About the author