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When and How to Freeze Your Credit

Andrew Secker, Private Banker, First Republic Bank
April 29, 2022

  • A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, which makes it harder for criminals to open fraudulent accounts.
  • Credit freezes are free and last indefinitely.
  • You’ll have to call each reporting agency individually to freeze each report.

Identity theft is a concern for everyone, particularly when your stolen identity impacts your finances. A credit freeze can be a useful tool if you'd like to place a barrier between your finances and potential harm, such as data breaches and fraudsters. With a credit freeze, you can help mitigate the risk of someone using your personal information to take out loans or set up accounts in your name.

If you're wondering how to freeze your credit, it's a relatively easy process. You’ll have to contact all three reporting bureaus to make sure your credit is secured from all angles, but the steps involved in setting up a credit freeze are straightforward.

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze — also known as a security freeze — allows you to restrict access to your credit report. This prevents you or others from opening a new credit card or credit account while the freeze is active.

When a freeze is in place, you can essentially prevent new credit activity associated with your name from happening. You can also temporarily lift your credit freeze for things like applying for a new line of credit or mortgage. You can even apply for a job, obtain an insurance policy or rent an apartment while the freeze is in effect.

Anyone can use a credit freeze to keep their credit history safer, and doing so doesn't affect your credit score. You may have also heard of a credit lock, which is different from a credit freeze in several ways: 

Credit Freeze Credit Lock
  • Restricts access to your credit report
  • Free to file
  • Makes it harder for identity thieves to take out loans or apply for credit
  • Lasts until you remove it
  • Restricts access to your credit report
  • Is generally included with paid credit bureau subscriptions
  • Easier to unlock credit through desktop or mobile
  • Locking or unlocking happens immediately

When should you freeze your credit?

You can freeze your credit whenever you want to, as long as you unfreeze it before applying for a loan, line of credit or other transaction that explicitly requires a credit check.

Doing so can help you prevent fraud on an ongoing basis without you needing to actively monitor activity as your only line of defense. There are several scenarios in which it's particularly helpful to freeze your credit: 

  • If you’re a victim of identity theft and want to protect your credit from being used for fraud
  • If you’ve received a fraud alert and want to limit what criminals can do with your information
  • If you do not need to seek out financing in the near future, which reduces the need for a credit check by lenders

How a credit freeze works

You can request a credit freeze online or over the phone from the three major credit bureaus. Each bureau requires you to contact them directly before they'll freeze your credit — then it will take 24 hours to take effect. Credit bureaus must unfreeze your credit within an hour after you put in the request.

Who can access frozen credit reports?

Current creditors can still access your credit files despite a freeze. Companies that provide you with a copy of your report and score can still access your credit information despite a freeze, as can courts and government agencies. Debt collectors can still access your credit information if they're working on behalf of an organization to whom you owe money.

How much does it cost to freeze your credit?

Credit freezes are free. You may, however, want to opt for a paid credit monitoring service with one or more credit bureaus. These accounts usually offer tools that let you monitor your credit more closely and may include credit report locks and other ways to help you keep an eye on your use of credit.

How long does a credit freeze last?

A credit freeze lasts indefinitely until you reach out to a credit bureau to unfreeze your credit. You can also temporarily unfreeze your credit for a loan or line-of-credit application without permanently removing the freeze.

How can you unfreeze your credit?

The process for unfreezing credit is simple. Contact each bureau at which a credit freeze is in place and ask them to unfreeze your report. Credit monitoring agencies are required to unfreeze your account within one hour of receiving the request.

How to freeze credit at each credit bureau

You can submit a freeze request with the three major credit reporting agencies by contacting them over the phone or through their websites. You'll need to create an online account beforehand in order to initiate a credit freeze, which may also include entering personal information to verify your identity. 

Each bureau will also ask you for the following information to verify your identity:

  • Full name
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Recent address (and previous address if you have moved within the last six months)

Can I freeze my child’s credit?

Freezing your child’s credit can help ward off fraudulent financial activity associated with their personal information. A guardian can freeze a child’s credit if they are under 16 years old, and the freeze will remain in place until it's removed. If you request a freeze for a child with no credit report, the credit bureau must create one. This can help prevent credit accounts from being opened in the child’s name.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of a credit freeze?

There are benefits and drawbacks to initiating a credit freeze.

Benefits Drawbacks
  • Reduces the ability for someone to fraudulently open a credit account in your name
  • Provides peace of mind knowing that your credit report is secure
  • Doesn't impact your credit score or affect your ability to use your existing credit accounts
  • Free to set up and use
  • Lasts indefinitely in most states
  • Can create a hurdle to opening a new credit account
  • Not 100% guaranteed to be effective
  • May not prevent all kinds of financial fraud or fraudulent accounts
  • Requires an individual to reach out to each reporting bureau

Should you freeze your credit?

A credit freeze is an excellent way to enhance the security of your credit. A freeze can help you avoid fraudulent credit account openings. However, you'll still have the ability to apply for credit and show your credit score to insurance agencies, landlords and more. If you’re interested in freezing your credit but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, reach out to a financial professional for more information before you make your decision.

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