Your credit report contains highly sensitive information.
Whether you’re applying for a credit card, an auto loan or a mortgage, creditors will request authorization to check your credit history.
They can review your existing accounts, and gauge how well you manage these accounts.
To put it plainly, the contents of your report determine your creditworthiness.
For this reason, it’s important to safeguard your credit. So if you want to prevent the misuse of your information, you might consider a credit freeze.
What is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report.
Without a freeze, lenders and creditors can view your history whenever you submit an application for credit.
And unfortunately, they can also access your report when someone else applies for an account in your name.
Since a freeze prevents creditors from looking at your file, this is one of the best ways to protect your name and credit if your personal information has been compromised.
A freeze can also lower the risk of being a victim of identity theft.
You must contact one of the three U.S. credit bureaus to freeze your credit: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Note: Requesting a freeze with one bureau doesn’t freeze all of your credit reports. So, you’ll have to contact each bureau individually. This is an extra step, but the process is relatively easy.
You can freeze your credit online, or submit a request by telephone or certified mail.
To place a credit freeze on your Experian credit report, visit www.experian.com/freeze, or call 1-888-397-3742.
Submit a written request to:
- Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
To place a credit freeze on your Equifax credit report, visit www.freeze.equifax.com, or call 1-800-685-1111.
Submit a written request to:
- Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, Georgia 30348
To place a credit freeze on your TransUnion credit report, visit www.freeze.transunion.com, or call 1-888-909-8872.
Submit a written request to:
- TransUnion LLC
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Information You Need to Freeze Your Credit
Be prepared to provide details about yourself when requesting a credit freeze. This information is necessary to confirm your identity. You’ll need to provide:
- first, middle, and last name, including suffixes like JR or SR
- mailing address and previous addresses
- Social Security number
- date of birth
- copy of a government-issued ID
- copy of a utility bill or insurance statement
A credit freeze isn’t permanent, and you can temporarily lift or remove the freeze at any time.
You’ll receive confirmation of the freeze once the credit bureaus process your request.
You’ll also receive a personal identification number (PIN) with this confirmation.
Store this PIN in a safe place. You must provide this number when you lift or remove the freeze.
Depending on where you live, your credit freeze may automatically expire after 7 years.
However, some states will only lift or remove a freeze upon request.
If you submit a request, it takes about 3 days to unfreeze your credit.
What are Reasons to Freeze Your Credit?
Freezing your credit is an excellent way to prevent or minimize damage to your credit history when you’re a victim of identity theft.
If you’re able to stop a thief early, you can possibly resolve the matter sooner.
But being a victim of identity theft isn’t the only reason to freeze your credit. Other reasons might include:
You’ve lost your wallet
If you lose your wallet with your driver’s license and your Social Security number inside, freezing your credit can stop someone from using your name, address, and Social Security number to open new credit accounts in your name.
You can request a temporary freeze until you’re able to find your wallet, or until you’re able to get a new Social Security number.
As a rule of thumb, don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Keep it in a safe place at home.
You’re not applying for credit anytime soon
If you’ve already purchased a home, a car, and you don’t have a need for new lines of credit, a credit freeze is one way to control new credit activity.
You’ll enjoy peace of mind knowing that no one can open an account in your name behind your back.
Keep your credit frozen until you need to apply for new credit.
You’re leaving the country for a while
A credit freeze also provides peace of mind if you’re leaving the country for a while.
With your credit frozen, there’s one less thing you have to monitor while away.
Other options for protecting your credit
But while a credit freeze is an option in the above scenarios, it’s not always necessary.
A fraud alert is an option if you haven’t been a victim of identity theft, yet you want to protect your credit from fraudulent activity. It doesn’t prevent creditors from checking your report.
But they must take steps to verify your identity before accessing your report. This makes it harder for thieves to open accounts in your name.
For your convenience, you don’t have to contact each bureau to request a fraud alert.
You can submit your request to any one of the three U.S credit bureaus. Once you submit a request to one bureau, this bureau will notify the others.
Fraud alerts are free. Request a short-term alert for at least 90 days, or an extended alert for up to 1 to 7 years.
How Much Does a Credit Freeze Cost?
While a fraud alert is free, a credit freeze isn’t. The cost of a credit freeze varies depending on where you live.
But you can expect to pay between $5 and $10 for each freeze. The exception is if you’re a victim of identity theft.
If you can provide a police report as proof of theft, the credit bureaus may waive the credit freeze fee.
Here are the fees for credit freeze's by state for non-victims of ID theft:
Fees for Credit Freeze Services (By State)
|Add a freeze||Lift a freeze|
|District of Columbia||Free||Free|
To get the full list of credit freeze fees for each credit bureau, use the fees list on their sites:
Does a Credit Freeze Affect Your Credit?
Although a credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, it doesn’t negatively affect your credit score.
Therefore, you can still get copies of your credit reports annually while your credit is frozen.
Check your own credit
You're entitled to one free credit report from each of the three bureaus each year.
Submit a written request to each of the reporting agencies, or visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your free copies.
Be mindful of the fact that a credit freeze may impact other areas of your life.
Non-lenders who may also review your credit
Creditors and lenders aren’t the only ones who check your credit history.
Depending on your occupation, employers may conduct a credit check before offering you a position.
And some insurance providers and utility companies also run credit checks before offering services.
A credit freeze will also prevent these companies from accessing your credit reports.
So if you plan on applying for a job or insurance, you may have to request a temporary lift or permanently unfreeze your credit beforehand.
Since you must give companies authorization to pull your credit, you’ll know about these credit checks in advance.
This allows time to lift or remove a freeze permanently.
Unfortunately, there’s also a fee for lifting or removing a credit freeze.
The good news is that some employers and insurance companies may only pull a report from one credit reporting agency.
To save yourself money, ask which reporting agency the company uses, and then only lift or remove the freeze with this bureau.
What a Credit Freeze Doesn’t Do?
Even though a credit freeze restricts your credit report and can stop unauthorized credit activity, it doesn’t prevent a thief from fraudulently using your existing accounts.
If someone steals your wallet, they can still use your debit card or credit cards and ring up charges in your name. So never let your guard down.
Continue to monitor your credit card statements and your bank accounts for suspicious activity.
It’s important to note that a credit freeze doesn’t stop prescreened credit card offers you receive in the mail.
These will likely continue, but you can stop these offers by opting out.
Submit your request by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com, or by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688).
You can opt out for five years or permanently.
Monitoring your credit history is important because it only takes one identity thief to destroy your credit history and lower your credit score.
Order a copy of your credit reports at least once a year and examine these reports closely for suspicious activity.
If you suspect identity theft, file a police report and freeze your credit.
This provides peace of mind, and you can avoid further damage while disputing this activity.
Continue to monitor your credit even after you resolve identity theft issues.
A fraud alert on your credit file is one way to do this or sign up for credit report monitoring.
This way, you’ll receive alerts whenever changes occur on your credit report, such as a new credit inquiry.