How to freeze your credit
Last updated: October 2020
A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, stops creditors from accessing your credit file, which can help prevent people from opening new credit or financing accounts, such as an auto loan, mortgage or credit card, in your name. This is one step you can take to help protect yourself against identity thieves using information they obtained through a data breach or on the black market, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Learn more about how to freeze your credit and how a security freeze works.
How does a credit freeze work?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) says most businesses check the customer's credit report before opening a new account in their name. If a business cannot access your credit report file because of a freeze, the company will likely not approve opening a new account in your name.
While putting a freeze on your credit helps prevent others from opening accounts using your information, it does not stop someone from accessing your credit information. The CFPB says certain parties will still be able to see your credit information, including:
- Creditors, such as a bank or credit card company, for accounts you currently have open
- Certain government offices, like child support agencies
- Credit monitoring companies you have hired
It's important to keep in mind that a freeze will also not stop potential identity thieves from accessing accounts that are already open, says the CFPB.
Will a credit freeze affect my credit score?
A freeze will not affect your credit score or keep you from getting an annual credit report, according to the FTC. It should also not cause an issue with regular tasks that may include a background check, such as applying for a job or renting a home.
How do I freeze my credit?
To freeze your credit, you'll need to contact each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. According to the CFPB, you can make the request by phone, mail or through the credit reporting companies' websites. The FTC says you will be required to provide each bureau with your:
- Social Security number
The credit bureau may ask for some additional personal information, as well. Each bureau will then give you a unique personal identification number or password, which the FTC says you will need when you want to end the credit freeze.
Once you've made the request, the credit bureau must put the credit freeze in place within one business day of your request if it was made by phone or electronically, says the CFPB. If you made the request by mail, the bureau has three days to place the freeze. The credit reporting companies have to send you written confirmation of the credit freeze and provide information on how to remove it, says the CFPB.
How do I unfreeze my credit?
A credit freeze lasts until you have it removed, according to the FTC. You will need to contact the three national credit reporting companies to have the freeze lifted. You can do this by phone, email or online. You can also temporarily lift the freeze for a specified period of time, says the CFPB. The freeze will be reinstated once this period of time ends. Temporarily lifting the security freeze can be helpful when you know someone authorized needs to check your credit history, such as when you are applying for a mortgage or financing a new car.
What is the difference between a credit freeze and a credit lock?
While credit freezes and locks are similar, Consumer Reports states that a freeze offers more strict legal protections. A credit freeze is guaranteed by law, while a credit lock is an agreement between you and the credit reporting agency. It may not offer the same protections as the credit freeze, depending on what is in the contract. Additionally, there is often a fee with credit locks, but there is no charge for freezing or unfreezing your credit report. Credit locks may offer some conveniences, according to Consumer Reports. For example, you may be able to use an app on your smartphone to activate or lift the lock. You can also do this instantaneously, whereas a credit freeze usually needs a brief grace period before the freeze can be lifted. It is as quick as an hour if you call the credit bureaus or use their online tools, but it can take several days if you make the request by mail.
Placing a freeze on your credit can help prevent people from opening new accounts in your name and having unauthorized parties access your credit reports. If you're concerned about data breaches and identity theft, you may want to consider a credit freeze to help protect your important financial information.