How to Freeze Your Credit Report
Your credit report is your identity and your identity is your life. With reports of major data breaches and identity theft appearing on the nightly news, keeping your financial information protected is not only a suggestion, it's essential. Implementing a credit freeze on your credit report is a financial move that can put you at the top of your game. While there is a process of setting up and maintaining a credit freeze, the security and peace of mind that come with it are priceless.
To help decide if a credit freeze is best for you, we've outlined a few tips that will help you better understand the process of how to freeze your credit report.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is also known as a security freeze, and it blocks the access of your credit and financial information from prying eyes. Setting up a credit freeze protects and prevents the selling of your financial identity. This is a good preventative measure for identity theft, hindering unknown accounts and fraudulent charges from being made in your name. Only a select few individuals, including financial and government agencies, can view your information.
A 2019 identity theft study found that 14.4 million people in the U.S. were victims of identity theft. Even long after the funds are recovered, identity theft can have a lasting effect, damaging your credit and sending up red flags whenever future lenders view your credit report.
If you're not actively making large purchases, apartment or house hunting, or looking to take out a loan, a credit freeze is a good safeguard.
How Do I Freeze My Credit Report?
You will receive a verification PIN, which will be needed in the future for temporarily or permanently removing the freeze. The selected agency will complete the process within one business day. If the freeze is being removed, then they must comply within one hour of the request.
Keep track of your freeze start and end dates. You can request a free copy of your Annual Credit Report each year from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Compare the three reports to verify that there are no unfamiliar charges.
How Much Does It Cost to Freeze My Credit?
The Federal Trade Commission confirmed that as of September 21, 2018, requesting and removing a credit freeze is free. Parents can also freeze credit accounts for children under the age of 16.
The Federal Trade Commission advises individuals to be mindful of knowing the differences between a credit freeze and a credit lock. A credit freeze involves the same process as a credit lock, only the latter includes a monthly service fee. We’ll go over more details below.
Does a Credit Freeze Affect My Credit Score?
Freezing your credit account doesn't affect your credit score. You can still track all your credit accounts, payments and activity just as you did before. Lenders can't solely deny you a loan based on this, but it's best to temporarily lift the freeze during the verification process. If you're applying for a job, fear not — employers can’t be privy to this information either. They view a different set of information that won't interfere with the pre-employment screening process.
Is Freezing My Credit a Good Idea?
Freezing your credit is a financially responsible decision to make. Experian confirmed in its 2017 Data Breach Report report that an estimated 179 million records were exposed, resulting in the viewing of 14.2 million credit card numbers. And in 2018, identity theft cases involved 130,982 fraudulent credit card accounts. These statistics aren’t meant to alarm you, but rather remind you of the importance of protecting your economic prosperity. Freezing your credit can help prevent identity theft by limiting report access, and stopping credit card fraud before it starts.
Who Can Access Frozen Credit Reports?
The only people that can see your financial information during a credit freeze are credit bureaus, current creditors and debt collectors, certain government agencies (in the case of child support or custody), and employers (if applying for a job).
You may still receive offers from marketers, but lenders need to verify if you’re a financial risk and confirm your personal information before opening a new account or approving a loan. If a lender can’t see this information, then they generally don’t grant permission.
How to Opt Out From Receiving Credit Offers
OptOutPrescreen is a service that allows you to remove your name and contact information from lists provided by the major credit reporting companies for pre-approved credit card and insurance offers. Removal lasts for five years.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), after the credit bureaus review an opt-out notice, you should no longer be contacted by mail, email or phone.
The temporary opt-out process can be completed online. For permanent removal from the lists, you must also sign and mail in a permanent opt-out form.
If you change your mind about receiving exclusive offers, you can remove the restriction by completing an opt-in form.
What Are the Pros and Cons of a Credit Freeze?
If you're on the fence as to whether or not a credit freeze is right for you, here are a few pros and cons that may help you decide.
- Freezing your credit card report protects your information from being stolen and used to open new accounts.
- Implementing a security freeze gives you control over companies that can view your financial information.
- Having a credit freeze won't affect your credit score.
- Starting and maintaining a credit freeze can be done for free through Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
- You may experience access delays when removing a security freeze from your credit report.
- Credit freezes don't protect existing credit accounts from data breaches. Once starting a credit freeze, you have to keep track of the start and end dates, as well as the account verification PIN.
- A credit freeze doesn't prevent marketers from making soft inquiries and sending pre-qualified credit card offers.
- If you’re interested in learning about alternative options to freezing your credit, the next section will shed some light on the subject.
What’s the Difference Between a Credit Freeze, Credit Lock and Fraud Alert?
Let’s take a look at several other options available instead of freezing your credit report.
A credit lock is similar to a credit freeze, protecting your financial information from predators. There are subtle differences between the two, such as in the case of Experian's CreditLock. The monthly subscription service allows you to lock and unlock your credit at will (no PIN number necessary), receive in-depth account monitoring and offers up to $1 million in identity theft protection.
Placing a fraud alert is a good alternative to freezing your credit. When you sign up with one of the national credit bureaus, you're automatically protected by all three.
Besides your financials, it also covers your Social Security number and other personal information. Lenders and businesses will contact you if any suspicious activity occurs.
How to Lift a Credit Freeze?
To lift a credit freeze, contact one or all three credit bureaus. Depending on which agency you're with, the process can be completed online without a PIN, as with Equifax or TransUnion, or with a secured PIN number from Experian. If you’re house hunting or looking to take out money for college tuition, you can select the number of days to unfreeze your credit report, or remove it permanently.
Becoming a victim of identity theft is a scary reality that crosses all social and economic borders. Now that you have more insight about credit freezes, you can make the decision to contact one of the credit reporting agencies. If you’re still unsure, reach out to a credit expert for additional guidance. Whichever route you decide to take, remember that protecting your credit protects you.
from a Credit Expert