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 will soon be free as part of changes to the Dodd-Frank Act signed into law in May. The credit bureaus have until late September to comply.
How to freeze your credit
- Experian: Call 888‑397‑3742 or go online. Here’s a detailed walk-through on a credit freeze with Experian.
Equifax is already offering free credit freezes and credit freeze lifts in the wake of a data breach last year that affected about 148 million consumers. It’s unclear when TransUnion and Experian would drop the fees.
Fees for freezing and thawing credit varied by state, age of the person requesting one, and whether they were a victim of identity theft.
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 PIN.
Store your PIN in a secure location. If you misplace it, you may not be able to undo the freeze easily when you need to apply for a credit card or a loan, for instance.
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
- 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.
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.
Once there is no cost, freezing your credit will become easier. If you have your PIN nearby, you should be able to easily unfreeze credit.
Once there is no cost, freezing your credit will become easier.
If you have a mortgage and aren’t planning on moving in the near future, if you don’t need a car loan or new credit card, and if you don’t have an adult child who needs a co-signer, a credit freeze can be a good option for you.
What are the cons of freezing my credit?
Freezing your credit can be inconvenient (you need to keep track of your PIN and contact all three bureaus), and it 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. So if a thief steals the information on an existing account, your credit may be used without your permission.
If a freeze isn’t right for you, a less draconian alternative is a 90-day 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.
And for consumers who have had their identity stolen, the 90-day fraud alert is being extended to a year under the new law.
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.