How to Freeze Your Credit

Your personal data is everywhere these days. And now that data breaches have become a regular event, you have to do what’s needed to protect yourself.

While there is no absolute way to fully protect your identity, there are strategies you can employ to minimize the damage.

One way to do this is to freeze your credit. But then “how to freeze your credit” becomes the question.

Before we get into the mechanics of how to put a freeze on your credit, let’s first discuss the reasons why it’s a good strategy to protect your identity.

Why You Might Need to Freeze Your Credit

You should consider freezing your credit if you’ve already been a victim of identity theft or if any sensitive financial information has been compromised. That might include a fraudulent charge on an existing credit card or suspicious bank account activity.

There’s not much you can do to keep a thief from getting your personal information. All they need is your name, address, and a significant number. That can be a birthday, an existing account number, your driver’s license number, or the most important of all numbers, your Social Security number. This is why it is so important to actively monitor your credit.

Armed with this information, a thief can attempt to access one or more of your existing accounts, and either run up more debt or drain an account of funds. He or she can also use the information to impersonate you.

It would then be possible to apply for new credit in your name, gain employment, or even file a fraudulent tax return to obtain a bogus refund.

A credit freeze won’t protect you from all possibilities, but it will prevent a thief from opening new accounts in your name. That alone will protect you from the most common identity theft outcomes.

With a credit freeze, the credit bureau will contact you before issuing any information. That will usually be done by a direct call to the phone number you put on record. That will give you an opportunity to tell the credit bureau that you did not authorize the pull, alerting them that they’re dealing with a potential fraud situation.

Even with a credit freeze, your credit report will continue to function normally. Credit information will be reported, including your monthly payments and other information. Your credit score will continue to be generated.

And you yourself will have access to both your credit report and your credit score.

How to Put a Freeze On Your Credit

In the wake of the many recent data breaches, the process of how to put a freeze on your credit is now easier than ever. And it can be done free of charge.

Provide Identification

To put a freeze in place, you’ll need to provide sufficient identification to verify your identity. The credit reporting company will then give you a personal ID number or password so you can access your credit report going forward.

Complete an Application Online or by Phone

You can complete the application online, or by phone.

If it’s done by phone, you’ll need to provide:

  • your full name
  • date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • complete addresses for the past two years
  • copy of a government-issued ID card, such as a driver’s license
  • copy of the utility bill
  • copy of a bank statement (or some other documentation verifying your current address is valid)

Your personal identification number will be given once the credit freeze is in place.

For the freeze to be effective, you’ll need to do it through each of the three major credit bureaus:

how to freeze your credit

Who Still Has Access to Your Credit Even if You Freeze It?

A credit freeze serves primarily to keep unauthorized parties from accessing your credit report. It won’t prevent authorized parties from accessing your report.

Obviously, you will still be able to access your credit report. The other parties with access include:

  • Current creditors
  • Government agencies, in circumstances permitted by law
  • Your current employer, if you’ve already granted them access to your report

And once again, the actual flow of your credit report will continue as usual. That includes reporting of payment information, public records, and other information that normally flows to a credit report. The credit reporting agencies have arrangements with your active creditors to report this information, and that is not affected by the freeze.

Put another way, a credit freeze only blocks access to your credit report from new parties. But it doesn’t stop the flow of information into the report by creditors and other agencies with whom you have an ongoing business relationship.

The Pros and Cons of Freezing Your Credit

Pros:

  • A freeze will prevent any new accounts from being opened in your name without your direct and consent.
  • It won’t interfere with any existing credit arrangements, or any other third-parties directly authorized by you to access your credit.
  • Because credit bureaus will be required to contact you anytime your credit report might be accessed, you’ll know if your identity has been compromised. You can then take steps to minimize the damage, such as contacting existing creditors and other financial institutions.
  • A credit freeze will remain in place until you remove it.
  • You will have the ability to temporarily unfreeze your credit if you are applying for financing, employment, or any other purpose.
  • Freezing your credit is a free service by each of the three major credit bureaus.

Cons:

  • A credit freeze won’t protect you from all potential identity theft outcomes.
  • If a potential breach is identified as a result of the freeze, you will need to take action personally to limit the damage. This will include contacting financial institutions and lenders you already work with.
  • When you freeze your credit, your own ability to apply for credit, a financial account, or a job will be inconvenient. You’ll need to temporarily unfreeze your credit each time you do (see next section).
  • There is generally a fee to temporarily unfreeze your credit report.

How to Unfreeze Your Credit

You’ll need to unfreeze your credit report anytime you plan to apply for credit, including credit cards, student loans, auto loans, mortgages, or other installment debt.

You may also need to unfreeze it if you’re applying for a new job, or even for certain insurance policies. Unless you do, the parties you’re making an application with will not be able to access your report.

Once you enact a credit freeze it can last indefinitely. However, you can choose to lift the freeze, either permanently or temporarily.

Contact Each Credit Bureau

To do so, you’ll need to contact each of the 3 credit bureaus individually. Much as you did when you placed the credit freeze, you’ll need to provide identifying information to unfreeze it.

But you’ll also need to supply the personal ID number provided to you by the credit bureau at the time you froze the report.

  • Experian: 1(888)397-3742
  • TransUnion: 1(888)909-8872
  • Equifax: 1(800) 349-9960

Pay a Fee to Lift the Freeze

Unfortunately, while placing a credit freeze is done free of charge, you’ll need to pay a fee each time the freeze is lifted. That fee may be as high as $20 per lift. But it will give an intended third-party vital access to your credit report when necessary for your own purposes.

Credit freezes may be somewhat inconvenient, and they’re not 100% foolproof. But it’s worth having as a general identity theft protection strategy, knowing you can unfreeze it and refreeze it when it’s necessary for your own purposes.

FAQ

Is freezing your credit a good idea?

It all depends on your financial situation and if you feel you are at risk for identity theft. You should consider freezing your credit if you’ve already been a victim of identity theft or if any sensitive financial information has been compromised.

How much does it cost to do a credit freeze?

Placing a freeze on your credit is done free of charge. Unfortunately, lifting the freeze can cost you up to $20.

How long does a credit freeze last?

Once you enact a credit freeze it can last indefinitely. However, you can choose to lift the freeze, either permanently or temporarily.

Do I need to freeze all three credit bureaus?

For a credit freeze to be effective, you’ll need to do it through each of the three major credit bureaus, Experian: 1(888)397-3742, TransUnion: 1(888)909-8872 and Equifax: 1(800) 349-9960.

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