A credit freeze — also called a security freeze — lets you restrict access to your credit report. It enables you to take control of your financial information by preventing the release of your credit score and detailed reports by credit reporting agencies.
A credit freeze means potential creditors will be unable to access your credit report, making it more difficult for an identity thief to open new lines of credit in your name. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score, and it’s free.
The three major U.S. credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — are a source of credit information for other companies. Mortgage lenders, credit card companies, car dealerships, and other agencies buy access to your credit history to decide if you are a good credit risk.
Lenders are unlikely to approve loans unless they know you’re a good credit risk, and that requires them to review your credit reports. So, a credit freeze can help protect against, for example, an identity thief taking out a mortgage or other debt in your name.
What if you’ve been the victim of a data breach?
If your Social Security number has been exposed during a data breach, a credit freeze is considered a strong move to help keep anyone from opening new credit accounts in your name. Lenders and furnishers won’t be able to access your credit file, and as a result would be unlikely to grant credit to anyone using your Social Security number.
But keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t do anything to protect your existing financial accounts or other identity-related activities that don’t require a credit check.
There are issues to consider before deciding to place a credit freeze on your credit file. For one thing, it requires effort.
How do I place a credit freeze?
To place a credit freeze on each of your files, you must contact each credit reporting agency directly. Instructions are on the company websites:
- Equifax: 1-800-349-9660 or equifax.com
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or experian.com
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289 or transunion.com
Here’s information you’ll likely need to supply: Name, address, data of birth, Social Security number, and other personal information.
When you set a credit freeze, you will select or be provided a personal identification number associated with the freeze.
Your PIN allows you to unlock your credit file when you want to provide access to lenders when you apply for credit. It’s smart to keep your PIN in a secure place. That way, it’s there when you want to unfreeze your credit.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, you should consider placing a freeze on your credit files.
A credit freeze consists of three actions: You can add, lift, or remove a credit freeze.
- Adding a credit freeze means placing a freeze on your credit.
- Lifting a credit freeze temporarily removes the freeze so you can apply for credit.
- Removing a credit freeze permanently removes it.
You can do all of these actions for free.
When will I need to lift a credit freeze?
There are a variety of occasions when you will need to lift a credit freeze.
For instance, you will need to lift the freeze if you are planning to buy a home or car, rent a car or an apartment, sign up for a cell phone plan or an account with a utility company, or apply for a credit card.
Many employers also require credit checks of potential employees.
You may submit a request to lift a credit freeze for a specific company or for a specific period of time.
How long will it take? If the request is made online or by phone, a credit bureau must lift a freeze within one hour, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If the request is made by mail, a bureau has three business days to lift a freeze upon receiving your request.
Keep in mind, a credit freeze does not apply to current creditors. They can still access your credit reports. Also, government agencies may have access under certain circumstances, such as with a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.
Whether you decide a credit freeze is a good idea for you or not, it’s smart to take other steps to help protect against identity theft and fraud. For instance, it’s a good idea to monitor your credit reports. That way, you can see if your credit report contains any unfamiliar or suspicious activity.
You can get a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can stagger your requests, say, to order a report from one of the three bureaus every four months, to be able to monitor your credit reports throughout the year. Even if you have a credit freeze in place, you can still access your credit reports.
Can a credit freeze damage my credit score?
No. A credit freeze does not damage your credit score. It won’t affect your credit score in any way.
A credit freeze also doesn’t do these things, according to the FTC.
- Prevent you from obtaining your free annual credit report.
- Keep you from opening a new account, although you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily.
- Prevent you from applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance. A freeze doesn’t apply to these actions, according to the FTC. However, if you’re doing any of these things, you may need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific time or for a specific party, say, a potential landlord or employer. It’s free to lift the freeze and free to place it again when you’re done accessing your credit.
- Prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor your bank, credit card and insurance statements for fraudulent transactions.
Pros and cons of a credit freeze
A credit freeze can help if you’re the victim of identity theft where your Social Security number has been compromised, but there are pros and cons of a credit freeze that you should consider.
Credit Freeze Pros
Here are a few benefits of placing a freeze on your credit files.
It prevents opening new lines of credit
No one will be able to open new lines of credit or other accounts that require a credit check in your name. If a fraudster tries to open a credit line, they will be blocked. That’s because lenders usually check your credit file to see if you’re a good credit risk and likely to pay back the loan. A credit freeze prevents lenders from checking your credit file.
It helps protect you against some types of identity fraud
If you have been a victim of identity theft and have placed a freeze on your credit, you may experience fewer instances of attempted fraud involving your personal information. This is because identity thieves will be unable to open new lines of credit in your name, although they may still be able to misuse your existing accounts if they gain access to them.
Doesn’t affect your credit score
Freezing your credit won’t affect your credit score. That doesn’t mean, however, that your credit score won’t change. Other factors such as your amount of debt and whether or not you make credit card payments on time might cause your credit score to rise or fall.
At one time, you might have had to pay a fee to freeze or unfreeze your credit files. That’s no longer the case.
Credit Freeze Cons
Here are a few disadvantages of placing a freeze on your credit files.
It takes some effort
It requires some effort to place or lift a credit freeze. For instance, you’ll have to contact all three credit bureaus.
It requires keeping track of your PINs
You may lose track of your personal identification numbers to lift and freeze your reports. If you want to lift or freeze your credit reports, you are required to provide your PIN. If you forget or lose your PIN, you’ll have to take extra steps to get a new one.
You’ll need to lift a freeze to give a creditor access to your credit file
When it comes time to open a new line of credit — for instance, if you apply for a new credit card — you’ll need to lift the freeze to give the creditor access to your file.
It doesn’t prevent thieves from accessing your existing accounts
A credit freeze can help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name, but it does nothing to keep them from committing fraud with your existing accounts. That means fraudsters might make charges on a payment card in your wallet.
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