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What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report. Since most lenders require a credit check before approving a new account, a credit freeze makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open a new account in your name.
It won’t prevent everyone from seeing your credit report. For example, creditors of accounts you currently hold and certain government agencies can still see your file while a freeze is in place. Because of this, it’s important to continually monitor your existing accounts and transactions, even if your credit is frozen. In addition, a freeze won’t apply to someone requesting your report for employment, tenant screening or insurance purposes.
The credit freeze will remain active until you ask the credit bureaus to temporarily lift the freeze or remove it completely. For either action, you’ll likely have to use the personal PIN or password you set up when you activated the freeze.
If you submit your request to lift the freeze online or by phone, the credit bureaus must lift it within one hour. If your request is sent by mail, the bureaus must lift the freeze within three business days of receiving your request.
Should you freeze your credit?
Under certain circumstances, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends a freeze on your credit reports if you’re a victim of identity theft, your information was part of a data breach, or your credit card, wallet, account information, or mail has been stolen.
Many people also choose to freeze their credit proactively before any signs of potential identity theft happen. A credit freeze won’t prevent you from getting credit, but to open a new account, you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific timeframe or for a particular institution.
For example, if you’re planning to finance a car, you’ll have to unfreeze your credit before applying for a car loan so that the lender can access your credit report at the time of your application.
If you’re worried about the possibility of identity theft but don’t want to freeze your credit, you could consider a fraud alert instead. When you set up a fraud alert, creditors may still get a copy of your credit report, but only if they take steps to verify your identity by contacting you.
With a fraud alert, you only need to contact one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. The credit bureau you contact must tell the other two about your alert. It’s free to place a fraud alert on your report. A fraud alert can last either one year (an initial alert) or seven years (an extended alert for verified victims of identity theft).
How to freeze your credit
Under a 2018 federal law, there is no cost to freeze and unfreeze your credit at the three credit bureaus. However, you’ll have to contact each bureau separately to set up a freeze. Here’s how to get started:
- TransUnion: Go online or call 888-909-8872. You can also try the mobile app called myTransUnion, available in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
- Equifax: Go online or call 800-349-9960.
- Experian: Go online or call 888-397‑3742.
You’ll need to provide your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, proof of identification and other personal details. Choose a secure password and pin that you won’t forget, because you’ll need these to unfreeze your credit.
Freezing your credit offers you a proactive way to protect your identity. If you’re worried about the possibility of identity theft, consider freezing your credit.