- Prevents unwanted access to your credit report
- No charge for adding a credit freeze
- Can add or remove the freeze instantly
- Does not impact your credit score
With online scams and identity theft on the rise, many consumers worry about their personal information falling into the wrong hands. One way to protect your credit is to request a freeze on your credit report. This limits who can see your credit report and prevents unwanted inquiries from happening. Learn more about how to freeze your credit, how it affects your credit score, and when you should request a credit freeze.
What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze is a restriction on your credit report that prevents potential creditors from accessing your credit. Consumers can request a credit freeze from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion— at no cost. You can leave the freeze on your credit for as long as you like. There are no time limits on the credit freeze, and it does not expire until you remove it.
Once a freeze is in place, lenders cannot perform hard inquiries on your credit, and no new credit accounts can be opened. When you want to open credit in the future, you can remove the credit freeze temporarily or permanently.
Pros and cons
- Isn’t guaranteed to be 100% effective
- Some can still access your credit report
- Must contact each credit bureau individually
- Extra steps required when opening a new account
Prevents unwanted access to your credit report
Locking down your credit prevents anyone from accessing your credit report to perform credit inquiries or opening accounts. The freeze provides peace of mind, knowing your credit report information is hidden from unwanted inquiries.
No charge for adding a credit freeze
There is no cost to adding or removing a freeze on your credit report. While credit bureaus offer premium paid versions of their services, they do not charge consumers to freeze or unfreeze their credit.
Can add or remove the freeze instantly
When requesting a credit freeze, it instantly applies to your report. Since there is no delay, your personal information is protected right away. If you need to unfreeze your credit, online requests happen in real-time, while phone requests are generally fulfilled within an hour.
Does not impact your credit score
Freezing your credit does not impact your credit score. There are no positive or negative changes to your credit report or score when adding a freeze.
Isn’t guaranteed to be 100% effective
While a credit freeze prevents most from accessing your credit, it is not foolproof. Additionally, some creditors may be willing to open an account even if they cannot access your credit report.
Some can still access your credit report
There are still certain types of access allowed that could expose you to identity theft and other credit risks. Allowed inquiries include requests for insurance, soft inquiries from existing creditors, and applications to landlords. These loopholes could result in unexpected bills and collection notices.
Must contact each credit bureau individually
To put a credit freeze in place, you must contact each credit bureau individually. There isn't a centralized location where you can perform one request that covers all three bureaus. Instead, you must follow three separate processes to freeze and unfreeze your credit every time.
Extra steps are required when opening a new account
When you do want to perform a legitimate credit inquiry, it takes extra time to handle the transaction. You must contact each credit bureau individually to remove the freeze so the lender can process your application. Once the application is approved, you have to remember to put the freeze back in place with each credit bureau.
How to freeze your credit
There are many compelling reasons to freeze your credit and some concerns that should be taken into account. In order to complete your request, you’ll need to gather personal information and follow specific steps for each credit bureau.
Information you need to freeze your credit at all 3 bureaus
When placing a credit freeze, you’ll need the following information to submit your request. This information verifies your identity and lets the credit bureaus know that it is okay to place the credit freeze.
- Full name.
- Date of birth.
- Address history for the past two years.
- Social Security number.
- Copy of your government-issued identification, like a driver's license, state ID card, or passport.
- Copy of a utility bill, bank statement, insurance bill, or similar document.
Steps to freeze your credit
If you’re ready to place a credit freeze, follow these simple steps:
- Gather your personal information. Having all of the information ahead of time speeds up the process and ensures you don't get distracted while submitting your request.
- Contact each credit bureau. A credit freeze must be submitted individually to each credit bureau. You can request a freeze over the phone or through the mail, but the best approach is online.
- Create your online account. By establishing an online account with each credit bureau, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit quickly as your credit needs evolve.
When to get a credit freeze
There are many reasons why someone would want to freeze their credit. Here are a few of the most common reasons to consider locking down your credit report:
- Prevent identity theft. Adding a freeze to your credit can make it harder for thieves to steal the personal information found on your credit report.
- Bank notifies you of unusual activity. Your creditors monitor your credit on a regular basis, and sometimes they notice unusual activity that is concerning. When this happens, they'll contact you to verify the transactions.
- Data breaches. Many companies store personal and payment information on their customers that thieves target. When this information is accessed unlawfully, a data breach occurs that could put you at risk.
- Unexplained bills or collection notices. If you've received bills or collection notices that you cannot explain, you may be the victim of identity theft.
- Avoid unwanted accounts. Having a freeze on your credit prevents unwanted inquiries and new accounts from being opened.
- Focusing on paying off debt. If you're trying to pay off debt, having a freeze makes you think twice before opening up new credit.
- Protect a child's credit. Children can be unsuspecting victims of credit and identity theft because they often won't find out about the crime until they become adults.
How to freeze your child’s credit
Your credit isn’t the only one that needs some attention. Identity theft is often a silent crime because the damage can fester for years without anyone knowing. In some cases, it is a child’s parent or other close family member that carried out the crime. Only when a child is ready to start building credit do they uncover all of the damage that needs to be unwound.
Since your child won’t need to apply for credit for many years, you can freeze their credit to protect them against identity theft. Follow these steps to freeze your child’s credit:
- Gather proper documentation. You need documents to verify the identity of you and your child. Plus, you need to provide proof of your relationship with the child. Most parents can use their driver's license and copies of the child's birth certificate and Social Security card.
- Complete forms to request the freeze. Each credit bureau has a separate form that you must complete to freeze the child's credit. Equifax and Experian have specific forms to fill out, while Transunion requires a written request.
- Mail request to credit bureaus. Mail your request and supporting documentation to each credit bureau at the addresses listed below.
Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion, P.O. Box 380, Woodlyn, PA 19094
Credit freeze or credit lock?
Consumers can freeze their credit for free at all three major credit bureaus. Each bureau offers premium services that allow consumers to lock their credit. There is no major difference between a credit freeze and a credit lock other than how they are initiated and how much they cost.
Here are the subscription services and the monthly cost for each bureau’s product:
- Equifax Lock & Alert - Free.
- Experian CreditWorks - Free for seven days, then $24.99 per month.
- TransUnion Premium Credit Monitoring - $29.95 per month.
Who can access frozen credit reports?
Freezing your credit stops new inquiries on your credit report, but it doesn’t stop everyone from accessing it. When you have a credit freeze, there are still several ways your credit report can still be accessed:
- Checking your own credit. You can access your own credit at any time, even when your credit is locked. This allows you to check the status of your accounts and verify the reported information is correct.
- Underwriting for an insurance policy. Your credit score and history is part of the underwriting process for some insurance policies. Even if your credit is frozen, insurance companies can still access your credit to make insurance policy decisions.
- Screening by a landlord. Potential landlords can access your credit to make determinations on renting a property or the size of the security deposit that is required.
- Existing creditors. Companies who you have existing accounts with can access your credit report to review your credit usage. They can use this information to adjust your credit limit up or down and verify the information they provide to the credit bureaus.
- Child support payments. A child support agency can access your report to help determine monthly payments. They can also use this information to collect money owed.
- Debt collection agencies. If you owe money and someone is trying to collect the debt, they can access your credit report as part of their efforts to get paid.
- Background checks. Potential employers and the government can access your credit to conduct background checks for employment or security clearance, or to execute a court order or warrant.
- Prescreened offers. Potential creditors often buy lists of prospective customers who fit certain profiles. Even if you’ve frozen your credit reports, you may still receive these offers unless you’ve opted out.
TIME Stamp: Credit freezes help protect against identity theft
Having a good credit score is critical for the best interest rates and to get approved for loans. Scammers and thieves target unsuspecting consumers by taking advantage of your hard-earned credit to open accounts and leave you with debt. You can stop criminals in their tracks by placing a credit freeze on your credit report to prevent inquiries and new accounts from being approved. Credit freezes are free and can be turned on and off in real time. This way, you can protect your personal information while still having access to new credit whenever you want.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Can freezing your credit hurt your credit score?
No. Adding a freeze to your credit report does not impact your credit score. The freeze simply stops creditors from conducting hard inquiries on your credit.
What is the downside of freezing your credit?
While freezing your credit protects against unwanted credit inquiries, it can also stop legitimate ones. If you’re applying for credit—for example, a mortgage, auto loan or credit card—you’ll need to remove the freeze before the lender can access your credit.
Do I have to freeze all three credit bureaus?
You do not have to freeze all three credit bureaus, but doing so offers the most protection for your personal information. You can freeze your credit at each credit bureau individually, so you can pick and choose.
Is it difficult to freeze your credit?
No, it is not difficult at all. The credit bureaus have made it very simple for consumers to freeze their credit and reduce the risk of identity theft. Credit freezes can be requested online or over the phone, and are immediate. Consumers can also instantly remove credit freezes if they want to apply for credit.
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