Identity theft and access to private information is a serious threat, as well as a legitimate reason why you need to learn how to freeze your credit.
Restricting access to your credit report is a measure to take in case of an emergency. It won’t affect your credit score, neither will it prevent you from opening a new account, applying for a job, or renting an apartment. Yet, you should be aware of the procedure, as well as all the pros and cons before resorting to it.
So, how to freeze your credit with the three main credit bureaus? Let’s find out!
What Is a Credit Freeze?
US consumer reporting agencies offer a credit freeze service to prevent third parties from opening fraudulent accounts in your name by blocking access to your credit file.
This is an option to tap into if you have a reason to suspect your identity has been compromised, or your data has been breached. The biggest problem here is that most identity theft victims aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.
While helpful, the credit freeze isn’t all-powerful. This is why it’s also a good idea to consider other identity theft protection services and options.
How to Freeze Your Credit?
The process of freezing your credit usually varies for different credit reporting companies or credit bureaus. Here, we’ll cover the three big names — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
- On Experian’s security freeze center you have an option to:
- Add a security freeze
- Remove or lift a security freeze
- Retrieve your personal identification number (PIN)
- Grant a creditor one-time access to your credit file
The platform itself offers a couple of additional resources. For instance, you have the security freeze warning, security freeze exceptions, security freeze details, and placing a freeze with other bureaus. This allows Experian credit freeze to be fully customized. It also gives you a lot more freedom and maneuvering space.
To freeze your Experian file, you need to submit certain personal information. For starters, you need to submit your full name (with the middle initial), your social security number (SSN), as well as your permanent place of residence (or places of residence) for the past two years. Aside from this, you’ll be asked for a copy of a government-issued identification card (state ID, driver’s license, etc.). Lastly, for your credit freeze on Experian, you need to submit one copy of a utility bill, bank, or insurance statement.
In terms of form and format, make sure that all these copies are legible. Each document also needs to display your mailing address and the date of issue clearly. Most importantly, keep all the original documents. You never know if the company will ask you to retake the photos in question.
The process required for Experian unfreeze is quite simple, too. All you have to do is go to the platform’s security freeze center or call the company’s phone line. Either way, you’ll have to provide your PIN. Even if you forget it, it’s possible to get a new code or password after submitting some identity information.
For those who are still worried, your credit score will not suffer due to the freeze. In other words, the credit score freeze isn’t among the reasons why 16% of Americans have a very poor credit score.
The process of freezing your Equifax credit score is relatively simple and straightforward. The main reason why some people dreaded Equifax credit freeze in the past was its 10-digits-long freeze PIN code. Fortunately, this is no longer a necessity. This is a prime example of a credit bureau listening to customer feedback and responding accordingly.
Like with other credit reporting companies, you can freeze your Equifax credit report via phone or email.
Requirements are that you include your full name, address, social security number, and date of birth. To prove these details, you will have to submit copies of documents that can verify your name and physical address.
So, if you’re wondering how to freeze your credit on Equifax, prepare copies of the following:
- Government-issued ID
- Military ID
- Tax documents
- Bank statements
- Utility bills
The Equifax freeze process is fast, which is essential when it comes to financial identity theft. By examining credit card fraud statistics, you will learn just how little time it takes for a fraudulent third party to cause a major problem to the cardholder.
Remember that credit reporting businesses don’t share data for freezes. This is why you need to submit with two other reporting agencies, as well. They do, nonetheless, share a fraud alert system.
Learning how to use your Equifax unfreeze option is just as important. Once the dust is settled, you can just contact Equifax via phone or email and, using the same PIN, unfreeze your credit report. This way, everything can get back to normal as soon as the situation is resolved.
Freezing your TransUnion credit isn’t more difficult than with any other reporting service. Once you use this option, you will take charge of who can access your credit information, and freeze your credit completely free of charge. Like with other reporting agencies, choosing to use your TransUnion credit freeze option will not affect your credit score.
The application platform necessary for freezing your credit on TransUnion will inquire about personal information including your first name, middle name (optional), and last name. It will ask for your social security number (last four digits), your date of birth and your email. When listing your permanent residence, the form will require you to confirm whether this is the place where you’ve stayed for more than six months. The process of freezing is almost identical to the process of opening an account.
Unlike its counterparts, TransUnion freeze is possible via postal service, as well. Regardless of the form, the service will require you to submit your private info (as a confirmation). It will also insist on a random-generated (and completely secure) PIN. You must also provide this number when you choose to unfreeze.
In the scenario where it’s unable to do it on its own, TransUnion allows you to protect the identity of others you care about, as well. For instance, TransUnion security freeze also allows you to freeze a loved one’s credit.
How to Freeze Your Child’s Credit?
Children younger than 18 can have their credit compromised. You see, during identity theft, the credit bureau will have no idea whether or not the social security number used belongs to a minor (or a person using it, for that matter). Given the fact that a cyberattack happens every 39 seconds, it’s not unlikely that this could happen to your child as well. If they’re younger than 17, you will have to submit an application to freeze credit. If they’re older than 18, they can do it themselves.
People younger than 18 can’t apply for a credit on their own. The closest thing is that they can become authorized on credit card accounts of their parents. Provided that they’re not up to mischief, this won’t affect your credit score.
So, what about a hypothetical situation where you had to freeze their account for the reasons listed above? It’s better to keep onto the PIN in question since they will have to unfreeze their credit once it’s time for them to apply for their first loan.
How Much Does It Cost to Freeze Your Credit?
Besides asking, “How do I freeze my credit”, people are naturally worried about the service’s cost.
Prior to 2017’s Equifax data breach, the credit freeze option was only available to identity theft victims. The incident, which affected 147 million Americans, triggered law changes. In 2018, Congress passed a law allowing anyone to set up a credit freeze for free. Before that, citizens of some states had to pay around $10 for the service.
Now neither of the three main credit bureaus charge for security freeze. On the other hand, paying an extra $120 per year for credit monitoring (for further protection) is a worthwhile investment. This is especially important for those who frequently use credit cards for online shopping.
How to Unfreeze Credit?
Once the situation is in the clear, you need to start thinking about unfreezing your credit. You need to do it with each platform individually. This is usually a fairly simple process that requires you to contact the agency and confirm your identity. This is done by submitting your PIN, possibly even by answering a couple of security questions.
Only in rare scenarios where you know exactly which credit bureau’s information has been compromised you can freeze and unfreeze with just one of these credit reporting agencies.
Pros and Cons of Credit Freeze
The process of freezing your credit score is an important safeguard but also a relatively new feature in the financial world. Here are some of the service’s pros and cons to get familiar with the concept and decide whether it’s the right option for you.
- A credit freeze reduces the chance of someone creating a fraudulent account in your name.
- It puts your mind at ease if you fear that your personal data is compromised.
- A credit freeze doesn’t affect your credit score.
- Freezing your credit with all three main credit bureaus is free of charge.
- Learning how to put a freeze on your credit can prevent you from applying for new credit on impulse.
- Once initiated, the process lasts indefinitely unless revoked.
- The process is not 100% effective.
- You may not be aware that you need it to begin with.
- You have to contact every credit bureau individually.
- Once you need a new credit account, you will need to lift the credit freeze temporarily.
When you learn how to freeze your credit report and see just how easy, simple and cheap it is, you will be in a constant temptation to use it. This is why it’s so important to consider all pros and cons before taking any action.
Freezing your credit is your first defense line if you suspect that your financial data or personal info has been compromised.
Unless you know exactly which of your reports have been compromised, freezing your files with all three reporting agencies is the safest course of action. This doesn’t lower your credit score. It’s also completely free of charge.
Once you know how to unfreeze credit, you will realize that there’s no reason to avoid this action. The biggest problem lies in finding out that you’re a victim of identity theft and realizing that this measure is, indeed, necessary. This, however, is a story for another time.
In a scenario where there’s a reasonable doubt that your credit information has been compromised, this is the best way to protect it.
Just keep in mind three things. First, this method isn’t 100% fail-safe. Second, there’s a procedure that you will have to follow. Third, this is still a relatively new feature, and it’s not completely regulated.
A credit freeze doesn’t hurt your credit score. Other than this, while the credit freeze is active, you can still apply for a free annual credit report. If you decide to open a new account, all you have to do is temporarily lift the freeze and place it back again once you’re done.
There is no cost to freezing your credit. So, to instigate this security measure you just need to reach out to each of the three main credit reporting agencies individually and follow the procedure.
Those wondering how to freeze your credit other than by calling the agency, you can always go online to the credit freeze center of each individual credit bureau. While a phone call is a more common option, in 2021, many people find it a lot more convenient to do this via email.