When you think of freezing, credit may not be the first word that comes to mind. But knowing how to freeze your credit can prevent you from pain even worse than frostbite: identity theft.
What a credit freeze does is simple: It protects customers by blocking access to their credit reports. Whenever a consumer applies for a line of credit like a credit card or home loan, a lender or card issuer usually checks customers’ credit before making a decision. But when the credit report is frozen, the potential creditor cannot access the information required to approve the application.
A credit freeze often comes in handy when identity thieves attempt to open new lines of credit in the names of their victims and make unauthorized credit inquiries. Even if criminals have customers’ personal information, such as their Social Security numbers or birth dates, the credit freeze prevents them from opening new lines of credit.
Freezing credit is easy, but it doesn’t happen automatically and involves more than just clicking a button. If a customer decides their finances need the extra level of protection in the form of a credit freeze, customers will need to request a freeze from each of the three major consumer credit bureaus individually: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. All three bureaus are required to offer credit freezes for free, regardless of where customers live in the U.S.
When making the freeze request, customers will be asked to answer questions to verify their identity. They will also need to provide their personal information, including name, birth date, Social Security number, a copy of a photo ID, address and proof of residence (for example, a recent utility bill). Depending on the bureau, customers might get a PIN they can use to refreeze and unfreeze the report as needed in the future. This PIN should be treated as any other sensitive information and kept in a secure location.
Requesting a credit freeze doesn’t usually take too long and can be completed in around ten minutes per bureau. Here is how the customer should start the process with each bureau:
How to Freeze Credit with Equifax
Customers can freeze their credit with Equifax online on their website or by calling 800-349-9960.
How to Freeze Credit with Experian
To initiate the credit freeze with Experian, customers should either visit their online security freeze center or call 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742).
How to Freeze Credit with TransUnion
TransUnion also allows anyone to place a credit freeze online on their website or by calling 888-909-8872.
What Happens When Credit Reports are Frozen
After customers successfully freeze credit, credit reports become inaccessible with a few exceptions. Consumers can still access their own records and so can their current creditors and debt collectors. Marketers would still see customers’ credit reports for promotional reasons and in certain circumstances, government and child support agencies would also have access.
It’s also important to remember that if a customer plans to apply for credit and a security freeze remains on their credit reports, the freeze will need to be lifted before applying, either temporarily or permanently, to ensure the lender or card issuer can view the reports during the credit check. Until the freeze is lifted, it will remain impossible for customers to be approved for credit.
To unfreeze credit, a customer should simply contact the three bureaus listed above either by phone or online as they did when freezing credit. Temporarily unfreezing the credit for a set amount of time can be done if customers need to apply for a credit card, mortgage, loan or other financial product. Remembering to lift the freeze can be obnoxious, but it’s a small price to pay for extra protection against credit fraud.
There are some cons to a credit freeze. Freezing credit prevents identity thieves from using a stolen identity to commit fraud against them, but it won’t protect people from having identities stolen in the first place. A freeze may also give customers a false sense of security, so as always, it’s crucial to keep track of the credit score and check credit reports regularly—even with a credit freeze in place. Staying on top of credit scores and reports helps to quickly notice fraudulent charges if they occur and to minimize any damage to credit history.
A credit freeze won’t have any impact on customers’ credit score and will not affect current credit accounts.
A credit freeze is a free, effective way of protecting one’s credit from fraud and a wise option for someone not actively shopping for a credit card or loan. It provides peace of mind for anyone worried about identity thieves opening new lines of credit in their name. While credit freezing doesn’t guarantee a customer will never become a victim of fraud, it offers a convenient and easy-to-set-up layer of protection over consumers’ credit.