Credit & Finance

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29 June, 2023
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3 Minutes

What is a credit freeze and how do I do it?

CS

Clare Stouffer

Staff writer

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A woman who protected her credit with a credit freeze, a key step in safeguarding her financial future.

A credit freeze lets you restrict access to your credit report, enabling you to take control of your financial information by preventing the release of your credit score and detailed reports by credit reporting agencies. This means potential creditors can't access your credit report, making it difficult for an identity thief to open lines of credit in your name. 

A credit freeze is just one way to keep your finances more secure. Keep reading to learn more about how credit freezes work and how identity theft protection services can help protect your identity.

A credit freeze is a free protective measure that doesn’t impact your credit score.

How to freeze your credit

A credit freeze—also called a security freeze—lets you restrict access to your credit report. Why would you want to do this? If someone has unauthorized access and makes changes like opening a fraudulent account, it could impact your credit score and your ability to qualify for credit cards, loans, and more.

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 an identity thief taking out a mortgage or other debt in your name, for example.

To place a credit freeze on each of your files, you must contact each credit reporting agency directly. Instructions are on the company websites:

Here’s what you’ll need to gather before contacting a credit bureau to place your credit freeze:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Government-issued identification, like a license or passport

They might ask for other personal information as well to verify your identity. 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 so 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.

How and when do I need to lift a credit freeze?

An image covers information you’ll need to implement a credit freeze and common situations when you’d need to lift the credit freeze.

When you’re ready to lift your credit freeze, it’s the same process as placing it. You simply contact the three credit bureaus with the same information:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number
  • Government-issued identification, like a license or passport
  • PIN (supplied when you placed the 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.

However, a credit freeze is not a complete block to accessing your credit. Current creditors and government agencies will still have access to your credit report as needed for situations like a subpoena.

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 opening new accounts (you’ll need to temporarily lift the freeze to do so)
  • Block you from accessing your free annual credit report
  • Protect any current accounts that may have been compromised
  • Block actions that may require a hard credit inquiry without opening new lines of credit (renting an apartment, buying insurance, or applying for a job)

If you want to take any actions that typically require a hard credit check from a third party, you may need to temporarily lift your credit freeze so they have access. You can lift and replace a credit freeze as often as you’d like for free.

Credit freeze vs. fraud alert

Credit freezes and fraud alerts are different tools you can use to protect your credit. If you have one in place, you may not need the other.

  • Credit freeze: Blocks all credit inquiries except from current creditors or government agencies
  • Fraud alert: Prompts any creditors to take extra steps to verify new credit inquiries
An image covers the key differences between a credit freeze and a fraud alert.

Why would I need a credit freeze?

Credit freezes are most often placed when you’re worried about potential identity theft. Identity thieves can use your personal information in a variety of ways, including taking out loans in your name or opening a fraudulent account. These both can negatively impact your score.

A credit freeze blocks potential identity thieves from doing so, which saves you the stress of fighting fraudulent changes and prevents negative impacts on your credit score. Many people choose to keep a credit freeze active until they’re ready to take out a loan or open a new account for added protection and peace of mind.

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 a few things to consider before deciding to place a credit freeze on your credit file. For one thing, it requires effort.

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 you should consider.

An image showcases the pros and cons of a credit freeze.

Credit freeze pros

Here are a few benefits of placing a freeze on your credit files.

  • It’s free
    At one time you might have had to pay a fee to freeze or unfreeze your credit files. That’s no longer the case—now it's completely free.
  • 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 won’t impact your credit score
    Freezing your credit has no effect on your credit score.
     But this doesn’t mean that a credit freeze blocks your score from regular changes. It’s still important to monitor your credit use and make payments on time to keep your score from falling.
  • 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.

Credit freeze cons

Here are a few disadvantages of placing a freeze on your credit files.

  • 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 could make charges on a payment card in your wallet.
  • It requires keeping track of your PINs
    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.
  • It takes some effort to remove
    It requires some effort to place, lift, or remove a credit freeze. For example, you’ll have to contact all three credit bureaus.
  • 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.

Tips for monitoring your credit

When you want to protect your credit score, prevention is key. Whether or not you implement a credit freeze or fraud alert on your report, it’s important to take these measures to help ward off identity thieves:

Help keep your identity safe

A credit freeze shouldn’t be your only safeguard against identity theft. LifeLock goes above and beyond to keep your personal information out of the wrong hands. When you’re ready to take action against identity thieves, explore identity theft protection plans to help keep you and your family safe.

FAQs about credit freezes

Don’t feel intimidated or get cold feet when it comes to protecting your credit reports. Check out our answers to some questions you may have about credit freezes below.

Is freezing your credit a good idea?

If you’re worried about identity thieves using your personal information to open fraudulent accounts or lines of credit, then a credit freeze can prevent that from happening. Credit freezes are free and have no effect on your credit score, so there’s no harm in doing so.

How do I put a freeze on all three credit bureaus?

To initiate a credit freeze for each credit bureau, you’ll need to call or use their websites:

What does a credit freeze do?

A credit freeze blocks any new credit inquiries unless they’re from a current creditor or government agency. This can keep identity thieves from opening credit accounts or loans in your name.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

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