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How Do I Get a Free Credit Freeze?

Freezing your credit requires you to contact each of the three major credit bureaus. The process is free.
Oct. 5, 2018
Credit Score, Personal Finance
How to Freeze Your Credit
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Freezing your credit is the best way to keep criminals from accessing your credit without your consent.

If you want to freeze your credit, you’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus individually; each has a slightly different process. Generally, you need to provide your Social Security number, birthdate and other information confirming your identity.

Freezing credit and lifting freezes are now free for all consumers, thanks to changes to the Dodd-Frank Act signed into law in May.

How to freeze your credit

Once a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, is in place, it secures your credit file so nobody can access it unless you give direct authorization to the credit bureaus, usually through a password-protected credit bureau website or PIN.

What is a credit freeze?

A freeze makes your credit reports inaccessible to most people, with some exceptions:

  • You can access your own records, including getting your free annual credit report. You can also check your free credit report summary from NerdWallet while your credit reports are frozen.
  • Preexisting creditors and debt collectors still have access.

A freeze has no effect on your credit score.

Last year’s Equifax data breach offers a compelling case for freezing your credit unless there’s a good reason not to. If you think your data may have been compromised, especially your all-important Social Security number, get a credit freeze.

Know where your credit stands

Check your credit report for free, every week. We'll help you monitor your credit report and track any changes.

What are the pros of freezing my credit?

If you’re dealing with identity theft, freezing your credit 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.

It is the strongest form of protection for the sensitive data in your credit reports, and it is free.

It is the strongest form of protection for the sensitive data in your credit reports, and it is free.

What are the cons of freezing my credit?

Freezing your credit can be inconvenient. You need to contact all three bureaus. You also have to establish accounts with Equifax and TransUnion when you freeze or thaw online, while PINs are required when you unfreeze by phone or postal mail. Meanwhile, Experian requires you to keep track of your PIN to freeze and unfreeze your files regardless of method.

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.

A credit freeze won’t affect your current accounts, but if a thief steals the information on an existing account, your credit may be used without your permission. It is still important to check statements carefully.

» MORE: How to dispute fraudulent credit card charges

The credit bureaus sometimes promote their own credit lock services alongside their credit freeze options. Locks can carry a monthly charge, but they give you a fast way to allow lenders access to your report. As with freezing your files, locking is most effective if you sign up at all three bureaus.

If a freeze isn’t right for you, a less draconian alternative is a one-year fraud alert, which tells potential creditors to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. You simply notify one credit bureau that you want a fraud alert, and you’ll get one at all three bureaus. And it’s free.

» MORE: Credit freeze and credit lock: What’s the difference?

In addition to closing off access to people who might try to open new accounts in your name, you should get in the habit of monitoring your credit so you catch problems early.

You’re entitled to at least one free credit report from each credit bureau every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s wise to request and read them thoroughly every year. A freeze does not bar your access.

In between, use a source of a free credit report and score, such as NerdWallet, where you can sign in and review things as often as you like.

Watch for:

  • New accounts that you didn’t open
  • Credit inquiries that you don’t recognize
  • Balances that don’t match your statement
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