You can freeze your credit with all three bureaus by going to each bureau’s website or giving them a call. You’ll have to provide some information about yourself and sometimes create an online account. Every bureau works a little differently, but overall, freezing your credit works similarly.
Thinking about freezing your credit report? Generally, a credit freeze can serve two primary purposes:
- To help prevent identity theft—a problem that is growing. According to the National Council on Identity Theft Protection, identity theft and fraud cases have been steadily increasing over the past decade.1
- To help you think twice before applying for new forms of joint credit or independent credit accounts.
In the past, there were fees associated with both freezing and unfreezing one’s credit information. But after the 2017 Equifax data breach and the implementation of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, people now have the ability to freeze and unfreeze their credit for free.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze means that your personal financial information is protected and therefore not accessible to any inquiring parties. A security freeze or credit lock are two other terms used to discuss credit report freezes. When your credit report is frozen, access to your credit info and credit history is blocked to any lender or card issuer until you lift the freeze.
When potential borrowers apply for loans or lines of credit, lenders perform what is called a hard credit check. Hard credit checks help potential lenders gather personal data reported on by three credit bureaus and assess whether a borrower is a suitable lending risk.
Suppose a borrower’s financial information shows too many hard credit checks, a high amount of debt, or evidence of other risky financial behavior. In that case, lenders may decide they are not a reasonable lending risk and deny their application.
Usually, it’s impossible to complete financial tasks like opening up a bank account, inquiring about quick cash loans, or applying for a credit card without going through a hard credit check. When someone’s credit is frozen their financial information cannot be accessed, making it impossible to perform a hard credit check.
Here are a few examples of financial services you won’t be able to access with a credit lock/frozen credit report:
|Impact of Credit Lock or Freezing Your Credit
|Inaccessible as lenders require credit history for eligibility and rates.
|Unavailable, as lenders need your credit report for approval and terms.
|Access denied for credit cards and lines of credit due to the credit lock.
|Inaccessible because lenders use past credit to determine mortgage terms.
|Lenders won’t be able to assess eligibility and loan terms without access to your credit report.
|Renting a Property
|Potential tenants’ financial reliability can’t be assessed without a credit check.
|Cell Phone Contracts
|Some service providers may require a credit check before offering contract plans.
If you want to access any of these financing options such as installment loans, bad credit loans, etc., you should put any pending credit freezes on hold or temporarily lift the freeze on your credit until you have the money you need.
How Will a Credit Freeze Affect My Credit Score?
Will a credit freeze affect your credit score or FICO score on your credit report? The short answer is no. While too many hard credit checks can negatively impact credit, there is no penalty for lack of hard credit checks on your credit report whatsoever. In fact, a credit freeze may help prevent you from applying for loans or credit lines you don’t really need. Under certain circumstances, freezing credit may help you focus on paying off existing debt instead of acquiring new financial accounts, which will actually have a positive impact on your credit score and credit reports over time.
While freezing and unfreezing (also known as thawing) credit came with a fee, it’s now a free service offered by the major credit reporting agencies. This lack of expense makes freezing your credit a smart option to consider if you want to protect your financial information or prevent yourself from acquiring new debts.
It’s essential to keep in mind that there are still a few organizations that will have access to your financial data despite a credit report freeze. Employers, insurance companies looking to compile insurance statements, and certain debt collectors typically always have access to the financial information they need.
How to Freeze Your Credit Report With the Major Credit Reporting Companies
Generally, there are three major credit bureaus or credit reporting companies. The main three credit reporting companies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While each company is a separate third-party entity when it comes to credit reporting, you can freeze your credit reports with the three credit bureaus in a similar way.
If you want to freeze your credit reports with the credit bureau Equifax online, you can create a myEquifax account on their website and request a freeze through the portal. Once completed, you should receive a notification via text or email letting you know your credit file is frozen.
If you want to freeze your credit reports online with Experian, you can go to their Freeze Center and create a user account. From there, you can request a freeze of your credit through the Experian website.
When it comes to TransUnion, freezing credit online is the most prominent method they offer. Straight from the TransUnion credit freezing page, you can fill out a quick online form to request your credit security freeze.
If you want to freeze your credit reports over the phone, you can call Equifax at 1-888-298-0045 or by calling Experian at 1-888-397-3742. When calling, simply inform the representative on the phone that you would like to put a freeze on your credit report. At that point, your representative will be able to walk you through the process of successfully freezing your credit report.
Perhaps you are not in a rush, and you would like to submit a freeze request via mail. In that case you can print out your online form and send it to Equifax at Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, GA 30348-5788 or to Experian at Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
If you are looking to freeze your credit reports quickly, online is probably the best method for most credit bureaus. Putting a freeze on your credit report via mail can take days or weeks, while requesting a credit report freeze online may take just a few hours to complete.
Why Would You Freeze Your Credit?
You may want to put a credit freeze in place if you think you may be vulnerable to identity theft and would like some extra financial protection. Another reason you may want to put credit locks in place would be if you were trying to limit your credit inquiries and organize your finances.
When identity thieves steal your credit information, they often have the ability to perform tasks like opening a new credit account or spending money via existing credit lines. Both of these actions have the ability to significantly affect credit in a negative way if left unmonitored.
But, keep in mind a credit freeze prevents lenders and credit card companies from gaining access to your personal financial information. Because of this, you can stop potential identity thieves from ever gaining access to your data by putting a freeze on your credit. Also, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need money fast, you can temporarily lift your credit freeze in order to apply for a credit line or any other kind of new credit accounts.
How Can I Protect My Credit Report Without a Credit Freeze?
Thankfully, there are several ways to go about defending your financial information and credit report beyond credit freezes. Checking your own credit score regularly or partaking in credit monitoring services are both ways you can protect your financial data as well as help prevent identity theft.
After the 2017 Equifax data breach, almost every single credit bureau offered a period of free credit monitoring services. But after a certain amount of time, services stopped being free and were available for a fee. Your credit reports are kept under an extra close watch with credit monitoring. You are also issued a fraud alert if there is any suspicious activity.
Activity that might warrant fraud alerts could be a high number of credit inquiries within a short period of time, credit spending at an extremely high rate, or purchases made from locations well outside of your regular areas.
You can also get your credit report for free anytime you’d like via a soft credit check. By checking your credit score often, you can get familiar with your score and how your usual financial activity impacts your score. That way, if you see any suspicious activity or a sudden dip in your credit score, you’ll know right away. Then, you can inform the proper authorities to help you rectify the situation.
Protecting your financial information and preventing identity theft is important and should be a priority. By freezing credit, signing up for credit monitoring, or checking your score often, you can help protect your finances and set yourself up for success!
Credit Freeze FAQs
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about credit freezes:
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, restricts access to your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. While a credit freeze and credit lock both restrict access, they might have different procedures with the credit bureaus for setting up and lifting.
To freeze your credit, you’ll need to contact each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) individually. This can be done online, over the phone, or by mail.
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit reports, preventing potential lenders from viewing your credit history. However, your history continues to be updated as usual.
Yes, even with a credit freeze, you can still request access to your credit files from the three credit bureaus. It’s important to check each credit file often!
A fraud alert lets creditors know they should verify your identity before opening new credit, while a credit freeze restricts access to your credit report entirely. Both are tools to help prevent credit fraud.
Federal law ensures that you have the right to freeze and unfreeze your credit for free. This came into effect especially after concerns about identity theft grew.
Yes, you can still sign up for a credit monitoring service. This service will alert you to changes in your credit files, even if a security freeze is in place.
It’s recommended to check your credit report at least annually. If you’re concerned about identity theft, consider using a credit monitoring service for more frequent updates.
To apply for new credit, you can temporarily lift the credit freeze by contacting the respective credit bureau. Depending on the bureau, you might need a PIN or password set during the freeze initiation.
Despite a credit report freeze, certain entities like your existing creditors, debt collectors, and government agencies can still access your credit under federal law.
Choosing to freeze your credit is one of the most effective ways to prevent unauthorized access to your credit file. While fraud alerts notify you of suspicious activity, credit freezes ensure that potential identity thieves cannot open new accounts in your name, offering a more proactive barrier against identity theft.
If you choose to freeze your credit it will remain in place until you decide to lift them. If you wish to remove the freeze, you’ll need to contact the respective credit bureau and provide the necessary authentication details. It’s essential to remember that each credit bureau has its own process, so you’ll need to address each one individually if you’ve frozen your credit with multiple bureaus.
Yes, while both are tools to safeguard against identity theft, they function differently. A fraud alert requires the credit bureau to verify your identity before issuing new credit, providing an additional layer of verification. In contrast, a credit freeze restricts access to your credit file altogether, preventing potential lenders from viewing your report unless you lift the freeze.
Key Takeaways With CreditNinja
Freezing your credit with the three major credit bureaus offers a robust layer of protection against potential identity theft and unauthorized credit activities. While each bureau has its unique process, the overarching goal remains consistent: to empower individuals with control over who can access their credit information. By understanding the nuances of credit freezes, fraud alerts, and the rights granted by federal law, individuals can make informed decisions about their credit management. To learn more about credit reports and finances in general, check out the CreditNinja dojo!
1. 2023 Identity Theft Facts and Statistics | Identitytheft.org
2. You Can Now Freeze Your Credit for Free | NW Mutual
3. How to Place or Manage a Credit Freeze | Equifax
4. Freeze My Credit | TransUnion
5. New Law Allows Credit Freeze | Debt.org