A credit freeze keeps the sensitive data in your credit files from being accessed without your specific consent. That can protect you from fraudulent credit applications, even if a criminal has key information such as your birthdate and Social Security number.
Placing or lifting a credit freeze is free, and it does not affect your credit score.
How a credit freeze works
A credit freeze protects you by blocking access to your credit reports. When someone applies for credit using your personal information, a lender or card issuer typically checks your credit before making a decision.
If your credit is frozen, the potential creditor cannot see the data required to approve the application.
You can use a PIN or password to unfreeze your credit when you need it.
How do I freeze my credit?
Contact each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — individually to freeze your credit:
- Equifax: Call 800-349-9960 or go online. Check out our step-by-step Equifax credit freeze guide.
- Experian: Call 888‑397‑3742 or go online. Here’s a detailed walk-through on getting an Experian credit freeze.
- TransUnion: Call 888-909-8872 or go online. Read our TransUnion credit freeze guide.
Generally, you need to provide your Social Security number, birthdate and other information confirming your identity.
Once a credit freeze is in place, it secures your credit file until you lift the freeze. You can unfreeze credit temporarily when you want to apply for new credit.
Do I need to freeze my credit?
If you’re not actively shopping for a credit card or loan, freezing your credit is wise. Now that freezing credit and unfreezing credit are free, NerdWallet recommends that all consumers protect themselves in this way.
If you think your data may have been compromised, for instance in a data breach, get a credit freeze. It’s especially key if your all-important Social Security number may have been disclosed.
Who can access my frozen credit reports?
A credit freeze makes your credit reports inaccessible to most people, with a few exceptions:
- You can access your own records, including getting your free annual credit reports. You can also check your free credit report summary and score from NerdWallet while your credit reports are frozen.
- Your current creditors still have access, as do debt collectors.
- Marketers can see your credit reports for the purpose of sending you offers.
- In certain circumstances, government or child support agencies can see them.
- You can still give permission to an employer or potential employer to check your credit (though the version they see omits certain details).
What’s the difference between a credit freeze and a credit lock?
Both a credit freeze and a credit lock block access to your credit reports. However, a credit lock is a product offered voluntarily by a credit bureau, which may charge a fee. Equifax’s credit lock is free; TransUnion offers a free lock through its TrueIdentity product or as part of a broader paid subscription; Experian’s lock is available only as part of a paid subscription package.
Credit freeze services are mandated by federal law and are free.
Credit locks may offer convenience — such as being opened and closed with a finger swipe on an app — but they offer fewer legal protections than a freeze.
Can I freeze my child’s credit?
Parents and guardians can freeze the credit of a child under 16.
If you request a freeze for your child, the credit bureau must create a credit file for the child, then freeze it. In addition to supplying the information required for an adult credit freeze, you’ll also need the child’s birth certificate and proof that you have standing to freeze the child’s credit.
Is there a downside to freezing credit?
There are a few, potentially:
- A freeze can give you a false sense of security — you may still be susceptible to fraudulent charges on an existing credit account if it’s been compromised, or health care or tax refund scams involving your Social Security number. It’s still important to check monthly statements carefully for signs of fraudulent activity.
- It can complicate creating a mySocialSecurity account (to track earnings, estimate future benefits, etc.). You can do so with a credit freeze or fraud alert in place, but you’ll have to go in person to a Social Security office.
- It can be somewhat inconvenient, because you need to remember to lift the freeze when you want to apply for credit. That inconvenience pales in comparison to having to unwind fraud or identity theft, though.
How do I unfreeze my credit?
Go to the credit bureau website and use the PIN or password you used to freeze your credit to unfreeze your credit. You can also unfreeze your credit by phone or postal mail if you can provide the PIN established when the freeze was set up. Unless you use postal mail, unfreezing takes effect within minutes of requesting it.
When you are applying for credit, you can ask the creditor which credit bureau it will use to check your credit and unfreeze only that one. Or, if you’re shopping for a loan and may make several applications in a short period, you may choose to lift the freeze at all three major credit bureaus.
You can choose to unfreeze for a specified time period, after which the freeze automatically resumes.