There are many different ways you can manage and protect your financial information. One way to help prevent fraudulent activity is with a credit freeze.
A credit freeze blocks others from viewing your credit report. This can help prevent someone from opening up a new account under your name. Read on to learn more about a credit freeze, how it works, and if it’s something you should pursue.
What’s a credit freeze?
A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, is a way to restrict access to your credit report. When you freeze your credit, lenders, credit card companies, and other entities can’t view your credit history. This can help prevent identity theft and other fraudulent activity.
Now that you know what a credit freeze means, let’s talk about what it doesn’t mean. A credit freeze doesn’t prevent everyone from seeing your credit information. Your current creditors or debt collectors can still check your credit file. Government agencies can also access your credit if they have a court order, subpoena, or search warrant. You may also still get prescreened for new credit card offers.
How a credit freeze works
A credit freeze temporarily blocks access to your credit reports at the 3 major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Below are some other quick facts about how a credit freeze works.
- A credit freeze doesn’t affect your credit score, though it can help protect a good credit score.
- You have to request credit freezes and freeze removals individually with all 3 credit bureaus.
- You can freeze or unfreeze your credit at any time. No one else can unfreeze your credit.
- Credit freezes stay in place until you ask the credit bureau to remove them.
- If you ask for a credit freeze to be lifted online or by phone, the credit bureau has to honor your request within an hour.
- If you make your request by mail, the freeze must be lifted no later than 3 business days after it’s received.
There are also other credit freeze limitations. Examples include: If someone already has access to your bank or credit account information or when a credit check isn’t required, fraud can still occur. For example, someone may use your personal information to obtain government benefits fraudulently or file a fraudulent tax return in your name to get a refund.
How do I freeze my credit?
To freeze your credit, you should reach out to each of the 3 main credit bureaus.
- Equifax: Visit the Equifax Credit Report Services page online or call 800-685-1111
- Experian: Visit the Experian Security Freeze Center page online or call 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: Visit the TransUnion Credit Freeze page online or call 888-909-8872
If you hear someone mention 5 credit bureaus, this may include 2 that are lesser-known:
- Innovis: Visit the Innovis Security Freeze page online or call 800-540-2505
- National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange: Visit the NCTUE Exchange Service Center page online or call 866-343-2821
When you request a credit freeze, you’ll need to provide some personal information. This may include your full name, address, date of birth, and social security number.
There also may be other requirements based on the credit bureau. For example, Experian requires you to set up a personal identification number (PIN) to freeze and unfreeze your credit. With Equifax and TransUnion, you can set up an account online and create a unique password to log in.
Unfreezing Your Credit
You can typically unfreeze your credit online. You may choose to unfreeze your credit with certain credit bureaus or with all 3. You can also ask that a freeze be lifted for a certain number of days or permanently. As of September 2018, it’s completely free to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
Should I freeze my credit?
Whether or not you should freeze your credit file depends on your unique situation. You may choose to take action if you see warning signs of unauthorized credit activity, like:
- Notifications from your bank or credit union of unusual account activity
- Communication that your information was involved in a data breach
- Unknown bills or collection notices sent to you (can be in your name or someone else’s)
- Random inquiries on your credit account that you don’t know about
A credit freeze doesn’t guarantee fraud protection. But, it can help lower your odds of having your personal and financial information compromised.
Plan ahead so a credit freeze won’t interfere with any other financial plans. For example, if you plan to apply for a loan or credit card in the near future or if you’re applying for a job that requires a credit check, hold off on the freeze for a bit. It can usually be unfrozen quickly, but you may benefit from some extra time to make sure it’s lifted before a credit check.
Alternatives to a credit freeze
If a credit freeze isn’t the best option for you, you may consider fraud alerts or credit-monitoring services.
Other ways to protect your credit include:
- Monitor credit and bank account activity regularly
- Create strong passwords for your online accounts
- Use different usernames and passwords across your accounts
- Be wary of when and how much personal information you provide
Fraud alerts let creditors know when your personal or financial information has been stolen. For instance, you can set up a fraud alert on your credit reports (with all 3 credit bureaus) if your information was part of a data breach. Fraud alerts are usually free and can be a short- or long-term commitment.
Understanding what goes into maintaining your credit and keeping your information safe can be daunting. However, with the right knowledge and tools in place, you can find some peace of mind.
Freezing your credit is just one way to take control against fraudulent activity. Keep this process in your back pocket so you’re ready if you ever need to take action.
Credit freeze FAQs
Can freezing your credit hurt your credit score?
Your credit score will not be affected by a credit freeze. However, a freeze can help protect your credit score by helping to block identity theft.
Is it a good idea to freeze your credit?
Freezing your credit may be a good idea if you suspect fraudulent activity. It can help keep fraudsters from opening a credit card using your information.
How long does a credit freeze last?
You can choose to have a credit freeze in place for a small period of time, or longer. You can unfreeze your credit at any time. Only you are able to complete the process.
How do I freeze my credit with all 3 credit bureaus?
You must freeze your credit with each credit bureau individually. Each bureau has their own process, which can usually be done online or by calling a bureau’s customer service.