A credit freeze can keep the sensitive data in your credit files from being accessed to open new credit lines in your name. Placing or lifting a credit freeze is free, and it does not affect your credit score. Even if a would-be thief has your birthdate and Social Security number, your credit file can’t be checked by a would-be creditor.
If you’re dealing with identity theft, a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, 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. You will need a PIN or password to unfreeze your credit. A criminal cannot do it, even with your personal data.
How do I freeze my credit?
You must contact each of the three major credit bureaus individually to freeze your credit; each has a slightly different process.
Generally, you need to provide your Social Security number, birthdate and other information confirming your identity. Here’s contact information for the credit bureaus, plus links with step-by-step guides:
- Experian: Call 888‑397‑3742 or go online. Here’s a detailed walk-through on getting an Experian credit freeze.
Once a credit freeze is in place, it secures your credit file until you lift the freeze. You’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily if you want to apply for new credit.
How do I unfreeze my credit?
You go to the credit bureau website and use the same credentials 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 personal identification number 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.
Do I need to freeze my credit?
If you’re not shopping for a credit card or loan, freezing your credit is wise. Now that freezes and thaws are free, NerdWallet recommends them for everyone.
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.
Consider freezing your credit even if your data hasn’t been exposed — yet. Data breaches happen regularly.
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 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’s requires that you agree to receive marketing emails and Experian’s is available only as part of a paid subscription package.
Credit freezes 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?
You 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.
Here’s how to contact each credit bureau about children’s credit files:
Is there a downside to freezing credit?
A freeze can give you a false sense of security — you may still be susceptible to credit fraud or other fraud involving your Social Security number.
It can be inconvenient because you need to remember to lift the freeze when you want to apply for credit.
What else to know
A freeze stops a new account from being opened in your name. But if a thief steals information about an existing account, your credit may be used without your permission.
It’s still important to check monthly statements carefully for signs of fraudulent activity and to alert creditors immediately if you see something suspicious.