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- A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, is a free way to stop activity on your credit file if you suspect your identity has been stolen.
- Unlike an identity theft report, you must contact each of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – individually to freeze your credit.
- In addition to credit freezes, you can also place a fraud alert on your credit or subscribe to a credit monitoring service.
Your credit history and credit score dictate many of the major milestones in your life, from renting an apartment to buying a house. Unfortunately, bad actors know this too, which is why your identity and credit are common targets for theft.
Luckily, you have a few tools in your credit toolbox that you can deploy against potential identity thieves. One of these tools is the credit freeze, which stops all new credit-related activity.
What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze prevents the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – from sharing your credit file with any person or lender. This will prevent potential lenders from looking at your credit report, but also prevent anyone from fraudulently taking out a loan or opening a line of credit in your name.
“If you’ve been the victim of a data breach or identity theft, a credit freeze is a good way to mitigate the risk of further damage to your finances and identity,” says Greg Mahnken, former credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider. . “If an identity thief or unauthorized person tries to apply for credit on your behalf, they will not be able to access your credit reports and the application will be denied.”
Also known as a security freeze, the credit freeze was made completely free in 2018 by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act. It’s also free to unlock your credit if you want to use it for something like a new credit card or buying a house.
“Freezing your credit is an effective and free way to prevent thieves from opening credit cards or other financial accounts in your name,” says Dana Marineau, former vice president of Credit Karma. “But keep in mind that it can be cumbersome to remove a freeze from all three bureaus every time you need a credit check.”
How to freeze your credit
The most important thing to know when freezing your credit is that the credit bureaus will not notify each other of a credit freeze as if you were reporting identity theft. You will need to freeze your credit with all three bureaus individually, says Mahnken.
1. Gather your information
For each of the offices, you will need to provide personal information, including your full legal name, social security number, date of birth, and home address.
If you request a credit freeze by mail, you will need to provide additional documentation proving your identity, social security number and address. For your identification, you will need to include a copy of your driver’s license, passport, or state-issued ID. For your social, you will need a copy of your SSN card, a payment stub with your SSN included, Form W-2 or Form 1099. To verify your address, you will need to include a copy of a rental agreement, payment stub with address, utility bill or phone bill.
2. Contact all three credit bureaus
You will need to place a credit freeze with each of the three major credit bureaus individually. This can be done online, over the phone or by mail. These three credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and Transunion.
Equifax Credit Freeze: You can easily freeze your credit with Equifax on its website or through an automated phone line: 800-685-1111 (800-349-9960 for New York residents). If you’d rather speak to a human, their customer service number is 888-298-0045. You can also freeze your credit by mail using their fraud request alert form.
Experian credit freeze: To freeze your credit with Experian, you can visit Experian’s online freeze center. You can also call 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742). You can also send a written request to Experian Security Freeze, PO Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
TransUnion Credit Freeze: You can apply for a TransUnion credit freeze through their online portal. You can also add a gel through the automated phone system (or choose to speak to a live agent) by calling 888-909-8872. You can also print and complete TransUnion’s Security Freeze Request Form.
To manage your credit freezes, each credit bureau provided you with a unique PIN code, which you had to keep in a safe place when you wanted to lift the freeze. Now, each office has a service center that allows you to block and unblock your credit.
3. How to unlock credit
A credit freeze can be lifted at any time online or over the phone and will remain in place until you ask the credit bureau to lift it or remove it temporarily.
If you request a freeze lift, the credit bureau must lift it within an hour, according to the Federal Trade Commission. If you make your request by mail, the credit bureau must lift the freeze within three business days of receiving your request. There is no charge for lifting the credit freeze.
Alternatives to credit freeze
Because it’s free, a credit freeze is a great option for protecting your credit. However, there are additional tools you can deploy to protect your credit.
You can place fraud alerts on your credit, which will require lenders to take reasonable steps to confirm your identity before extending lines of credit. Once you place a fraud alert through one of the credit bureaus, that bureau is required to notify the other bureaus. A fraud alert lasts for one year before you have to renew it. You can view Expanded Fraud Alerts, though they’re only available to people who have reported identity theft through IdentityTheft.gov or who have experienced identity theft in the past.
Subscribing to a credit monitoring service allows you to keep tabs on your credit without making any changes to your credit. While free services typically offer rudimentary credit monitoring, only notifying you of any changes to your credit report, paid services can also offer comprehensive identity protection, such as social media monitoring and privacy protection. other financial accounts, including bank accounts and investments.
Credit Freeze Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
A credit lock is a service that credit bureaus provide regardless of what they are legally required to do by the federal government. Credit freezes and credit blocks have similar functions in that they limit access to your credit file. The main difference between the two is the cost: credit freezes are free while credit blocks can cost you money depending on the bureau.
That said, some of these credit locks also come with identity theft insurance, usually up to $1 million.
No. Unless you are under 16, in which case your parent or legal guardian can freeze your credit on your behalf, only you can freeze your credit. You will need to provide various documents to prove your identity.
A credit freeze does not damage your credit, and you can lift it when you need a credit check, such as when applying for a loan or opening a credit card.
However, you must contact each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to place the freeze, and you must contact them again when you want to lift it, even temporarily.
There are still several parties that can access your credit reports after you freeze them. First, freezing your credit will not prevent you from accessing your own credit reports, which you will be able to obtain weekly until the end of 2023. All three credit bureaus will also continue to have access to your credit reports and government agencies.
Businesses you already have a credit relationship with and the collection agencies they employ will continue to have access to your credit while you freeze your credit.
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