Is a credit freeze right for you?

Illustrative credit report that says credit freeze.

Given recent high-profile data breaches, it’s natural to want to take steps to guard your identity against thieves. According to a LifeLock online survey, as of April 2018 nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft — a number that continues to rise. A good way to reduce the chances you’ll fall victim to identity theft is to freeze your credit. Here’s what you need to know about credit freezes.

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze restricts lenders’ access to your credit report information when they are processing a new loan or new credit card application. This action prevents the lender from approving a new account, making it more difficult for new credit accounts to be opened in your name.

How do you place a freeze on your credit report?

Thanks to recent federal regulations, credit freezes are now free in every state. You’ll need to contact each of the three credit bureaus to freeze your credit report, either online or by phone:

Equifax
800.685.1111

Experian
888.397.3742

Transunion
888.909.8872

You can also make a request by mail. Write to each agency using the address found on their website. You’ll be asked to provide your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number. Once you’ve successfully submitted your request online, the credit bureau will freeze your credit report within one business day. If you make the request by mail, the freeze will be placed within three business days after receiving your request. You’ll also be given a unique personal identification number (PIN) by each of the credit bureaus. It’s very important to keep these unique PINs in a safe, easily accessible location. You’ll need each bureau’s unique PIN when you decide to lift the freeze from your credit report.

How do you lift a credit freeze?

There is no cost to lift a freeze from your credit report. You can make a request to each credit bureau individually to have a credit freeze lifted by contacting them online, by phone or mail. If you make the request to the credit bureau(s) online or by phone, the freeze will be lifted within the hour of your request. If you make the request by mail, the freeze will be lifted within three business days after receiving your request.

While a credit freeze doesn’t protect you from all types of identity theft, it does prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. Unfortunately, it’ll also add a few extra steps to the new account open process; that extra effort may be worth it in the long run.

What credit freezes don’t do

If you’re worried about adding a freeze, don’t be. Credit freezes do not:

  • Affect your credit score
  • Prevent future charges on your existing accounts
  • Eliminate pre-screened credit offers

Once the need to have your credit accessed is over, you can request the freeze be reinstated without being charged a fee.

Whether or not you use a credit freeze, you can still get one free credit report from each of the credit bureaus online every week through April 2021. This is a change from the standard availability of once per year. At a time when so many families’ finances have been impacted by COVID-19, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will let you view and download your reports once a week. Visit annualcreditreport.com to get your copies.

On the annualcreditreport.com site, you'll need to complete the request form, select your reports, and verify your information for security.

The advice provided is for informational purposes only. Contact a financial advisor for additional guidance. 

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