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With the data breaches that have occurred over the past several years and rising concerns of identity theft, you might have considered ways to protect yourself. One solution to preventing thieves from using your credit for their own gain is to freeze your credit.
Before taking action, you should know about what a credit freeze does, what it protects you from, how to do it, and more. Below are the key points you should on how to freeze your credit beforehand.
What is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze prevents others from being able to access your credit report. Your credit report is used by lenders to decide if they will approve a loan or credit card. To apply for credit, the application will ask for personal information about you to pull the right credit report.
The lender isn’t able to see the data on your credit report when there is a credit freeze. As a result, they will decline your application. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are the three major consumer credit bureaus that you must contact to freeze your credit.
Credit Freeze vs Credit Lock
A credit lock is similar to a credit freeze in that it also blocks access to your credit reports. The difference is that credit bureaus offer a credit lock as a product.
Equifax offers its credit lock for free. The credit lock is free through TransUnion’s TrueIdentity product or when if you have their paid subscription package which includes it. To get Experian’s credit lock, you must pay for their subscription package.
The benefit of a credit lock is that you can control locking and unlocking through an app. However, there aren’t as many legal protections with a credit lock. Federal law mandates that consumers are eligible to receive credit freeze services at no charge.
How Do You Freeze Your Credit?
To freeze your credit, you must contact each of the major three consumer credit bureaus:
Experian – website or call 1-800-685-1111
Equifax – website or call 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion – website or call 1-888-909-8872
You will be asked personal information like your name, address, home address, and Social Security. To verify your identity, you will be asked some questions. Once you have verified your identity a PIN will be provided which you can use to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
When you need to unfreeze your credit to apply for a credit card or for a job, it’s lifted within an hour of contacting the bureau online or phone. Mailing your request will take three business days. If you plan to unfreeze it temporarily as you apply for credit, see if you can find out which credit bureau the lender is using you only need to contact the one.
When Should You Freeze Your Credit?
There are certain situations that it’s wise to freeze your credit. If you find yourself in one of these scenarios below, you should spring into action:
There has been a breach that potentially affects your information
Your identity has been stolen
You receive credit monitoring services
Have had your credit card number stolen
You have missing or tampered mail
Since freezing your credit is free, you might just consider having it frozen unless you’re actively seeking a loan or credit card. It’s one less thing that you have to worry about.
Pros and Cons of a Credit Freeze
As with all things, there are pros and cons to getting a credit freeze. Here are a few to consider when weighing the option.
- It’s a free service that’s legally mandated to be available to you
- Reduces the risk of your identity being used to open new credit accounts
- Can be unfrozen or temporarily lifted when your credit needs to be checked
- Isn’t a complete identity theft/breach solution; i.e. If a thief has your bank login information, they already have access to that account
- Not convenient to have to contact each credit bureau to lift a freeze on your credit when you need a credit check for a financial product
- Potentially delay certain applications like when a job requires a credit check or submitting a rental application
How to Unfreeze Your Credit
If you need to unfreeze your credit, you will need to either go to the credit bureau’s website or call them. Using your PIN that was set-up on your initial contact, you can submit your request.
When you don’t know which credit bureau a creditor is using or you plan to shop around and submit several applications, you can unfreeze your credit at all three bureaus. You can also set up a time period that which after the time period is up, your freeze resumes automatically.
Thieves will have a tough time opening up new credit cards or loan products in your name when you have a credit freeze. It’s a free tool that’s available to you at all three credit bureaus. You need to keep in mind however that it’s one tool in your belt for protecting you from identity theft.