Keeping your identity safe from theft is crucial, and freezing your credit is an effective way to do so. Freezing your credit ensures that no one can open new credit accounts in your name without your permission. In this blog, we explain how to freeze your credit, why it’s important, and share tips for protecting your financial identity.
What Is a Credit Freeze?
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report for security purposes. When you freeze your credit, the credit bureaus block anyone from accessing your credit report, making it difficult for fraudsters to open new credit accounts in your name.
How to Freeze Credit
The process involves contacting each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – and requesting a freeze. You can do it online, by phone, or by mail. You must provide personal information such as your name, Social Security number, and address. Depending on where you live and whether you are a victim of identity theft, you may also need to pay a fee.
Once you have successfully requested a freeze, each bureau will send you a confirmation letter with instructions on how to unfreeze your credit when you need to apply for new credit. This does not affect your existing credit accounts or credit score and you can still use your credit cards and loans as usual.
How Fast is It?
A credit freeze can be initiated quickly once you provide personal information and pay the required fees. The credit bureaus are generally required to place the freeze on your credit report within one business day of receiving your request. However, it may take some time for it to take effect and be recognized by all potential creditors.
Will I Receive Status Alerts?
After you place or lift a credit freeze, the credit bureaus may or may not confirm the status of it. If you’re not sure whether it’s in effect, you can contact the credit bureaus directly or check their website to confirm.
Pros and Cons
It’s important to consider both the pros and cons before deciding if a credit freeze is right for you. While it can be an effective way to protect your credit, it may also cause some inconvenience or limitations.
- Protection from fraud: You can prevent unauthorized access to your credit report and make it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
- Free of charge: Credit freezes are free of charge at all three major credit bureaus in the US.
- No impact on existing credit: They do not affect your existing credit accounts or score, so you can continue to use credit cards and loans as usual.
- Inconvenience: If you need to apply for new credit, you must lift the freeze temporarily, which can be an extra step in the application process.
- Limited protection: Credit freezes only protect against new credit applications — not existing accounts or other types of fraud, such as tax fraud or medical identity theft.
- Requires action on your part: You must initiate a credit freeze yourself and it must be placed at all three major credit bureaus separately, which can be time-consuming.
When to Freeze Credit
- You receive bills or collection notices that you don’t recognize, either in your name or someone else’s.
- You see new credit accounts or inquiries on your credit report that you didn’t authorize, which could indicate that someone is attempting to use your identity fraudulently.
- Your bank or credit union notifies you of any suspicious activity on your account.
- You’re informed that your personal information has been compromised in a data breach.
Freeze Credit Report for Deceased Family Member
To freeze the credit report of a deceased family member, you’ll need to contact the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion®. You can do this either online or by phone. You’ll also need to provide documentation of the person’s death, such as a death certificate or obituary, to each credit bureau. Once you’ve done that, you can request a credit freeze for the deceased person’s credit report.
Freeze Credit Report for Minor Child
To get started, you’ll be required to provide evidence of your own identity, a written request, and supporting documents demonstrating you have the authority to act on behalf of the minor or dependent.
How to Unfreeze Credit
To lift a credit freeze, contact the credit bureaus where you initially placed it. Upon receiving your request, the credit bureaus will temporarily or permanently remove the freeze from your credit report according to your preference.
Credit Freeze vs. Fraud Alert
A fraud alert is a measure to protect against identity theft. Once you place a fraud alert, businesses must verify your identity prior to issuing new credit in your name. It’s different from a credit freeze because you only need to contact one credit bureau to set up an alert. Then, they will notify the other two bureaus. If you were a victim of identity theft and can provide a police report, you can request an extended fraud alert that lasts seven years.
Credit Freezes vs. Monitoring
Credit freezes and credit monitoring are two different tools used to protect your credit. A credit freeze blocks access to your credit report and prevents anyone from opening new accounts in your name, while credit monitoring alerts you when changes occur on your credit report.
Additional Tips for Protecting Your Financial Identity
Here are some additional tips for protecting your financial identity:
- Check your credit reports annually and report any inaccuracies to the credit bureaus right away.
- Keep your personal information secure by avoiding carrying your Social Security card, using secure passwords, and storing important documents in a locked safe or cabinet.
- Be cautious when making online transactions and only enter personal information on secure websites.
- Report any unauthorized charges on your account immediately and consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit reports.
- If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission and local police department as soon as possible.
Freezing your credit is an important step to protect your financial identity from fraud and identity theft. For additional protection, sign up for IdentityIQ’s identity theft protection services, which give you access to the tools and resources you need to help keep your identity protected.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Freezing My Credit Hurt My Credit Score?
No, it does not hurt your credit score. It only restricts access to your credit reports, so it does not affect the information contained in your credit reports, which is what your credit score is based on.
Can I Freeze My Credit Reports For Free?
Yes, you can.
Can I Just Freeze My Credit at One Bureau?
No, you must do so at all three major credit bureaus.
Can I Still Apply For Credit if I Have a Credit Freeze?
You’ll need to lift the credit freeze first by contacting the major credit bureaus.