Credit freezes keep sensitive data in your credit files safe and fraud-proof. Hence, no criminal can access vital personal information without your specific consent. As a result, you will protect your accounts from fraudulent loan applications, even if your birthdate and Social Security number were exposed.
When you decide to apply for credit, you have the option to lift the freeze. However, even with an active freeze, you can apply for a job, buy insurance, or rent an apartment. Learn how to use one of the most robust protection alternatives consumers have against fraud.
The Typical Cost to Freeze and Unfreeze Your Credit by State
Freeze (during waiver)
Freeze (after waiver)
|District of Columbia||$20.00||$30.00||$0.00|
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A security or credit freeze is a virtual tool designed to protect you from identity theft and financial fraud. Once established, it limits access to your credit report until you remove the freeze or unfreeze your credit. Note that freezes do not affect your credit score.
Moreover, unauthorized parties can’t access your credit history to calculate scores unless you first lift the freeze. Freezing your credit will also prevent cons from using stolen sensitive personal information (e.g., social security number, birthdate) to open new accounts under your name.
Checking your credit report and scores are usually the first step after applying for credit. Therefore, freezing your credit at the national bureaus stops loan applications submitted by scammers. Remember that you must contact the three national credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to freeze your credit report. They’ll do so for free upon request.
A few drawbacks of credit freezes include halts on some authorized checks and complications with legitimate loan applications and credit card requests. In short, you would need to unfreeze your credit reports before moving forward with certain operations.
When to Use a Credit Freeze?
You have several options to protect your credit if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. In this case, you have plausible grounds to act, and a security alert will usually be enough. We urge you to review your credit report to determine whether you’re subject to fraud and take appropriate action.
If you request this security measure, you can add a telephone number. As a result, lenders will contact you each time they receive an application to verify it’s you. Plus, you will get a free credit report from each credit bureau when you add an initial security alert or victim statement.
If you doubt you’re a victim of ongoing fraud attempts, a security freeze might be necessary. Hence, consider taking action to protect your finances if:
- Your financial institution informs you of fraudulent activity on your accounts.
- Bills or collection notices not belonging to you are sent to your address.
- You get notified that you are or might be the victim of a data breach.
- Your credit reports contain new inquiries or credit accounts you never opened.
- You notice activity with lenders or companies you don’t recognize.
How to Freeze Your Credit
Contact each credit bureau, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to place a credit freeze. Follow the links below to initiate the process:
For Equifax, click on https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/.
For Experian, click on https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html.
For TransUnion, click on https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze.
When requesting a new credit freeze online, you will have to fill out a short form. Then, the credit bureau may supply or instruct you to create a PIN or password to use when reactivating your freeze.
When you order a freeze on your account, it’s mandatory to provide your name, date of birth, and SSN. National credit bureaus may also request other personal information to verify your identity. Remember that even if you place a freeze, you will still have access to your credit report.
Setting Up a Credit Freeze on Your Child’s Credit
Freezing your children’s credit files can be an excellent precaution. Occasionally, parents will set up a credit file for their children by making them authorized users on a credit card. This is usually to help kids build a credit history.
Before anything, the child must be 15 years old or younger and you need to prove your authority to freeze their credit report. Valid evidence of this authority can include:
- A birth certificate
- A court order
- A legally executed power of attorney
- A document issued by a US agency attesting to your parental relation to the minor
Once the child comes of age, you can unfreeze their credit file and let them begin seeking loans independently.
How to Remove a Credit Freeze?
The same websites through which you set up your credit freezes can assist you in lifting or suspending them. All bureaus provide instructions for removing a freeze by phone or email as well. Most likely, you’ll need to use the password or PIN generated by each credit bureau.
Besides having the chance to permanently remove your credit freeze, you can also choose to lift the freeze for only a set period of time. Temporal unfreeze occurs by granting one-time access to a specific creditor. Alternatively, you can select a period (one month, for example) you want the freeze to get suspended.
Once you enter the code or PIN online or by phone, expect your credit to get thawed within one hour. We urge you to keep your password or PIN safe because the bureaus need it to verify your identity. In case you lose it, the process can get delayed up to three business days.
How Much Does a Credit Freeze Cost By State?
Before 2018, you had to be the victim of identity theft to be eligible for a free credit freeze. Following the massive Equifax data breach that exposed the personal information of 147 million people, Congress passed a new law. Under federal law, anyone can place a freeze today at no cost.
Before the regulation, most states charged a fee to consumers who wanted to arrange a freeze. Even worse, customers had to pay a triple fee to place and lift a freeze with all bureaus. Luckily, rules have changed and all costs and barriers were waived. It is now completely free to freeze your credit.
Downsides to Credit Report Freezing
Though benefits prevail, there are a few drawbacks that come with credit file freezing. Below, we listed some aspects that bother account holders.
- You are still susceptible to fraudulent activity and a compromised credit account can still get charged. Your health care or tax refund involving your Social Security number can be subject to scams as well.
- It can be inconvenient because you may forget to lift the freeze when applying for loans. Still, this inconvenience should worry you far less than having to unwind fraud or identity theft.
- You may find creating your my Social Security account complicated, so you may end up having to go to a Social Security office in person instead.
- Insurance rates might increase if your state approves the use of credit information to set prices. So, if insurers can’t access your frozen file, they may not give you a good credit score discount. In this case, consider calling your agent to find out if you need to thaw your frozen reports.
Is Credit Freeze the Same as a Fraud Alert?
Freezes can restrict access to your credit reports indefinitely, while fraud alerts are temporary. Such alerts are free and less severe alternatives to credit locks, as well. Above all, fraud alerts allow lenders to do credit monitoring. Still, your identity must get verified before credit applications get processed. Verification is also mandatory before opening new credit in your name.
The first type of alert is the initial level. Anyone at any time and for any reason can set up this temporary alert for free, and it lasts one year. You can request temporary alerts even if you don’t suspect compromised data or a stolen credit card. A temporary alert is valid for one year but can get renewed again and again.
The second type involves active-duty fraud alerts, which are active for one year only and target US armed forces members on remote assignments.
Finally, you have the extended option, which lasts seven years. You must submit a copy of a fraud report supplied to a law enforcement agency to activate it.
All three types get removed automatically when their timespan is over. Yet, you can lift one before the set period upon request, like discontinuing a credit freeze or lock.
How to Add a Fraud Alert?
If you decide to set up a fraud alert, you will be able to open a new account without worrying about unfreezing. Creditors can also access your credit report but must take extra steps to verify your identity.
First, you need to contact only one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax). Then, FTC obliges each bureau to notify the other two to do the same. An essential thing to remember is that fraud alerts are free and you’re not subject to extra charges.
Overall, alerts offer a more convenient and sometimes safer alternative. They will stay in place while you continue to use your credit as usual without the need to lift them as you would do with a freeze. Note that removing alerts before their period expires requires you to inform each bureau separately.
Exceptions to the Credit Freeze
Security freezes prevent most inquiries, but specific individuals and parties can still access a frozen report. Here are the entities that can check your credit files under particular circumstances:
- You, when you attempt to review your credit report.
- Creditors you have accounts with can run regular credit checks in their account management processes.
- Credit card issuers running a prescreening for credit offers.
- Government agents and representatives who are executing court orders or warrants.
- Utility companies and phone providers when they define the security deposit amount for the equipment.
- Debt collection agencies attempting to collect what you owe.
- Child support agencies, when they determine the child support amount.
- Rental and real estate agencies and landlords screening you as a potential tenant.
- Authorized potential employers and companies conducting background checks in the recruitment process.
- Credit reporting agencies when they have grounds to act.
- Auto insurance companies that check your credit score in the rate-underwriting process.
Commonly Asked Questions
Does it cost money to freeze and unfreeze your credit?
Setting up a freeze is free for you and your children with all credit agencies. You won’t get charged anything for removing it when you want to apply for credit, too. Yet, depending on the services you use, you might need to pay some fees for the premium options.
Are there downsides to freezing your credit?
Although you’re mostly protected, you can be susceptible to scams involving your SSN. Also, your insurance rates can go up if insurers in your state can use credit information to set rates.
How much does it cost to freeze my credit with Experian?
You will not need to pay anything for placing a temporary freeze or permanently removing a security freeze on your credit reports. Experian and the other credit reporting agencies claim you can do so under federal law at no cost.
Is a credit freeze different from a credit lock?
Credit freeze services are free. Conversely, a credit lock is optional, but the three credit bureaus may offer it for a fee. However, since locks provide fewer legal protections, you may skip it altogether. Most people use locks as a preventive measure to guard their finances and personal data.
Can I place an active-duty alert if I’m in the military and deployed?
Yes, you can. Active duty alerts allow you to name a personal representative (your spouse or partner) to manage accounts in your name. The trusted person can verify your identity or remove the alert if necessary. An active duty fraud alert lasts a year and reduces the number of pre-approved credit cards and insurance offers you receive.