Protecting your credit is important. For starters, a good credit score can help you get a car loan or a mortgage. So, it stands to reason that you’ll want to keep your credit information out of the hands of hackers.
One of the most beneficial ways to safeguard your credit against data breaches and identity theft includes a credit freeze. Here’s what you need to know about how to freeze your credit.
What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze or security freeze is a way to restrict who has access to your credit report. When you freeze your credit with the three credit bureaus, this means lenders and other entities can’t view your credit history. Since a lender or credit card company can’t pull your credit reports, this makes it hard for an identity thief to open a new credit account in your name.
A credit freeze, however, doesn’t mean no one can see 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. A credit freeze also doesn’t prevent you from getting prescreened offers for credit. For example, you can still get invitations to open new credit card accounts in the mail even if you have a credit freeze in place.
How a credit freeze works
A credit freeze temporarily blocks access to your credit reports at the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It’s temporary because you can freeze or unfreeze your credit at any time.
Credit freezes stay in place until you ask the credit bureau to remove them; no one else can unfreeze your credit. If you ask for a credit freeze to be lifted online or by phone, the credit bureau has to honor your request within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the freeze must be lifted no later than three business days after it is received. Also important to note: You have to request credit freezes and freeze removals individually with all three credit bureaus.
Credit freezes affect specific types of credit activity. For example, when you have a credit freeze in place, you can still check your credit report and scores, apply for jobs, rent an apartment or purchase insurance.
A credit freeze also has other limitations. For instance, if someone already has access to your bank account or credit card accounts, a credit freeze won’t prevent them from using your information to make fraudulent charges. In addition, credit freezes can’t prevent fraudsters from misusing your information without involving a credit check. So, for instance, 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?
If you’re interested in how to freeze your credit, it’s not a complicated process. But remember: You have to make your request for a credit freeze with each of the three credit bureaus. You can do that online or over the phone.
Here’s how you can get in touch with each of the credit bureaus to initiate a credit freeze:
- Equifax: Visit Equifax personal credit report services or call 800-685-1111
- Experian: Visit Experian security freeze center or call 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: Visit TransUnion credit freeze or call 888-909-8872
When you request a credit freeze, you’ll need to give the credit bureaus certain personal information. That includes your name, address, date of birth and social security number. 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.
If you need to unfreeze your credit you can do so online. You can either unfreeze one or all three of your credit reports. 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.
Do I need to freeze my credit?
Whether it makes sense to freeze your credit can depend on a couple of things, namely whether you’ve worried about being a victim of identity theft and whether you think you’ll need to apply for credit in the near-term.
Again, while it isn’t completely foolproof, freezing your credit reports can help lower your odds of having your personal and financial information compromised. On the other hand, if you plan to apply for loans or credit cards in the short-term, you’ll need to plan in advance. While it’s possible to have a credit freeze lifted in an hour, it’s good to give yourself an extra cushion of time for the freeze to be lifted.
You also may need to unfreeze your credit if you’re applying for a job and a prospective employer requests a credit check. While this isn’t the norm, some employers ask for credit checks and background checks as part of the hiring process.
Alternatives to a credit freeze
If you’re interested in alternatives to how to freeze your credit, you can also consider a fraud alert or using a credit monitoring service. Fraud alerts let creditors know that your personal or financial information has been stolen. For instance, you can set up a fraud alert on your credit reports if your information was part of a data breach.
It’s free to set up a fraud alert and they can stay in place for up to one year, or you can request an extended fraud alert that lasts seven years. Putting a fraud alert on one of your credit reports alerts all three credit bureaus.
Credit monitoring services, on the other hand, are often free and allow you to keep tabs on changes to your credit reports month to month.
Regardless of whether you choose a credit freeze, fraud alert or credit monitoring service, keep in mind that it’s still important to monitor your credit card and bank account activity regularly for any potentially suspicious or fraudulent activity.