Pros and cons of freezing your credit
A credit freeze helps reduce your risk of identity theft, since potential new lenders can’t access your credit reports while the freeze is in place.
Credit freezes are free by law as of September 21, 2018, while credit monitoring services can be an expense.
The freeze can be lifted temporarily if you need to have your credit checked.
You have to contact each credit bureau where you’ve frozen your credit to lift the freeze if you want to apply for a credit card, mortgage or other financial product that requires a credit check.
It can delay your applications for jobs, cellphone service or any other situation that requires a credit check, since you have to lift the freeze each time.
It won’t protect you in situations where criminals already have access to your accounts (like if your bank login credentials were previously stolen via hacking). Making sure you use a strong password can be very helpful.
How do you freeze your credit at each bureau?
To freeze your credit, contact each of the three major consumer credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and request a credit freeze.
When you make the request, you’ll need to provide your name, address, birth date and Social Security number. You’ll then be asked a few questions to verify your identity and get a PIN that you can use to unfreeze and refreeze your credit report as needed.
Note that a newer federal law requires all three bureaus to offer freezes for free as of September 21, 2018.
Here’s how to place a credit freeze at each of the three bureaus.
How to do an Equifax credit freeze
You can easily freeze your credit with Equifax on their website, or via an automated phone line: 1-800-685-1111 – after several prompts, you will say “freeze.”
How to do an Experian credit freeze
To freeze your credit at Experian, you can visit their online Freeze Center. You can also call 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). After verifying your identity, you can request a credit report, your credit score, or freeze your credit.
How to do a TransUnion credit freeze
TransUnion allows you to place a credit freeze online. You can also add a freeze via the automated phone system (or opt to speak to a live agent) by calling 1-888-909-8872.
Freezing your credit is an effective, cost-free way to make it harder for thieves to open up credit cards or other financial accounts in your name. It also can reduce your chances of becoming an identity theft victim.
But keep in mind that it can be a hassle to remove a freeze from all three bureaus every time you need a credit check. You’ll want to be sure it’s the move you want to make.
Written by: Emily Starbuck Gerson
Edited by: William Whitaker, MS, CFP®