A credit freeze—also called a security freeze—lets you restrict access to your credit report. It enables you to takes control of your financial information by preventing the release of your credit score and detailed reports by credit reporting agencies. A credit freeze means potential creditors cannot access your credit report, making it more difficult for an identity thief to open new accounts in your name. A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
The three major U.S. credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion— are a source of credit information for other companies. Mortgage lenders, credit card companies, car dealerships and other agencies buy your information to decide if you are a good credit risk.
Lenders are unlikely to approve loans unless they know you’re a good credit risk, and that requires access to your credit reports. So, a credit freeze can help prevent against an identity thief from taking out mortgages or other debt in your name.
What if you’ve been the victim of a data breach? A credit freeze is considered a strong move to help keep anyone from opening new credit accounts in your name. Lenders and furnishers won’t be able to access your credit file, and as a result would be unlikely to grant credit to anyone using your Social Security number. But keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t do anything to protect your existing financial accounts or other identity-related activities that don’t require a credit check.
There are issues to consider before deciding to place a credit freeze on your credit file. For instance, it requires effort and could lead to added costs.
How do I place a credit freeze?
To place a credit freeze on your file, contact each credit reporting agency directly. Instructions are on the company websites:
- Equifax: 1-800-349-9660 or equifax.com
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or experian.com
- TransUnion:1-800-680-7289 or transunion.com
Here’s information you’ll likely need to supply: Name, address, data of birth, Social Security number, and other personal information.
When you set a credit freeze, you will have a personal identification number associated with the freeze. Each credit agency will send you a confirmation letter containing the PIN. Your PIN allows you to unlock your credit file when you want to provide access to lenders when you apply for credit. It’s smart to keep your PIN in a secure place. That way, it’s there when you want to unfreeze your credit.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, it’s free to place a credit freeze on your information. Consumers aged 65 or older sometimes receive free or discounted credit freezes. Otherwise, you may have to pay up to $10 to each credit bureau to freeze your information. The cost is regulated by states, so the fee varies.
A credit freeze consists of three actions: You can add, lift, or remove a credit freeze.
- Adding a credit freeze means placing a freeze on your credit.
- Lifting a credit freeze temporarily removes the freeze so you can apply for credit
- Removing a credit freeze permanently removes it
In addition to paying to add the freeze to your file, you may also be charged to lift your credit freeze. The costs can add up.
For instance, depending on the state where you live, your costs could look something like this:
- Place a credit freeze: $10
- Temporarily life a credit freeze: $10
- Lift a freeze for a specified lender: $10
- Remove a freeze: $10
- Replace a credit freeze: $10
In this example, you would have spent $50 making this series of moves. And if you want to lift the freeze again? That would be another $10.
When will I need to lift a credit freeze?
There are a variety of occasions when you will need to lift a credit freeze.
For instance, you will need to lift the freeze if you are planning to buy a home or car, rent a car or an apartment, sign up for a cell phone plan or an account with a utility company, or apply for a credit card.
Many employers also require credit checks of potential employees. If you pay a fee each time you request a lift of the credit freeze, the cost could add up.
You may request a lift for a specific company or for a specific period of time.
Another consideration is how long it might take to lift the freeze. It can usually be done online or on the phone within about 15 minutes. Credit reporting agencies have three business days to lift a freeze upon receiving your request.
Keep in mind, a credit freeze does not apply to current creditors. They can still access your credit reports. Also, government agencies may have access under certain circumstances, such as a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.
Whether you decide a credit freeze is a good idea for you or not, it’s smart to take other steps to help protect against identity theft and fraud. For instance, it’s a good idea to monitor your credit reports. That way, you can see if your credit report contains any suspicious activity.
You can get a free credit report annually from each of the three major credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can stagger your requests, say, every four months, to be able to monitor the reports throughout the year. Even if you have a credit freeze, you can still access your reports.
Editor’s note: This content was edited and updated on April 5, 2018.