Your credit score is vitally important, especially when it comes time to apply for a loan. Protecting that credit score could mean the difference between getting approved and being denied. However, with identity theft on the rise, what’s the best way to protect your credit from being compromised?
We’re outlining how to freeze and unfreeze your credit report – and why you should consider this safeguard.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze is a security measure designed to restrict access to your credit reports. It’s one way to protect against unauthorized loan applications and identify theft, which could wreak havoc on your ability to purchase a home or secure other loans.
When you freeze your credit, you essentially block new inquiries into your credit report. That means no one can open a line of credit in your name.
A credit freeze doesn’t restrict access for everyone, though. Your existing creditors can still access your credit reports even after you place a freeze on your file. Government entities with a search warrant or court order will also have access.
Credit Freeze vs. Credit Lock
Just a quick note here: you might hear the terms “credit freeze” and “credit lock” used interchangeably. While both processes protect against potential identity theft, they are not quite the same.
For starters, credit freezes are free. Credit locks, on the other hand, often come with a fee. That’s because credit bureaus provide more options with a credit lock, including alerts to inform you of suspicious activity on your credit report.
A credit lock is usually recommended as more of a preventative measure. A credit freeze is a good option for those who already know or suspect their accounts have been compromised.
Freezing Your Credit
Freezing your credit is a fairly straightforward process. You will need to contact the three national credit bureaus and request that your file be frozen to new inquiries:
- Equifax: Online here or by phone at 800-685-1111
- Experian: Click here to place a request online or call 888-397-3742
- TransUnion: Request online here or by phone at 888-909-8872
When requesting the freeze, you will need to provide identifying information such as your name, birthdate, and social security number. You may have to set a personalized PIN with the credit bureau, which you’ll use when you unfreeze your credit report.
Once you place a freeze on your credit, the freeze remains in effect until you request for it to be removed.
It is completely free to request a credit freeze, per a 2018 law.
Credit Freeze and Your Credit Score
Freezing your credit won’t impact your credit score. It won’t lower your credit score or affect your ability to receive an annual credit report. Your credit score will continue to fluctuate regardless of the freeze based on your debt-to-income ratio, on-time payments, and other factors.
However, not protecting your credit file could negatively impact your credit score. If your identity is compromised and lines of credit opened in your name, you could face many financial ramifications. Keeping your credit report safe means protecting your credit score – which ultimately gives you greater buying power.
How to Unfreeze Your Credit Report
Before you apply for a mortgage, credit card, or other loans, you will need to lift the credit freeze so that the lender can access your credit report.
You do not need to unfreeze your credit report to apply for an apartment or a job.
When you’re ready to unfreeze your credit report, you will once again contact each credit bureau individually. You will need the PIN code you received when placing the freeze (where applicable), so make sure you keep that code handy.
Per law, once you have requested the bureau to lift the freeze, they must do so within a designated timeframe. If you contact the bureau by phone, they must lift the freeze within one hour. Requests made by mail must be lifted no more than three business days after the request is received.
You can request to have your credit unfrozen temporarily (freezing it again after a specified timeframe) or permanently, depending on your situation.
Unfreezing your credit report is also free of charge under the 2018 federal law.
Have questions about freezing or unfreezing your credit report? Contact the credit bureaus listed above or talk with your financial institution for more information.