A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, is something you can do to help prevent unwanted access to your credit reports. Pretty much anyone can initiate a credit freeze, and it's helpful to know how to freeze your credit report in case you ever need to.
Why would you freeze your credit?
When you freeze your credit, you're effectively keeping other entities from viewing your credit reports, whether they be lenders, service providers, identity thieves or someone else. This may be because you want to avoid a hard check on your credit report, or it may be a way to keep you from impulsively applying for another credit card. Alternatively, it may be because you've been made aware of a security breach and want to prevent potential identity theft.
What happens when credit reports are frozen?
When you freeze a credit report, your credit information is typically blocked from access by outside parties indefinitely, until the block is removed. But this block doesn't necessarily apply to current creditors and debt collectors, who may still have access to your data. In addition, credit monitoring services may still access your reports and may continue to alert you about any changes or suspicious activity.
Credit freeze vs. credit lock: What's the difference?
Credit freezes and credit locks (when available) are two ways to help block unwanted access to your credit reports, but there are differences.
Adding or lifting a credit freeze requires working with a credit agency. Credit freeze services are mandated by federal law, can be done at no cost and can take up to 24 hours to take effect.
A credit lock allows you to lock and unlock your credit report. Enabling or disabling a credit lock can be done through a dedicated smartphone app or secure website.
Ways to freeze your credit
To freeze your credit, cardmembers will typically need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion® — and request a credit freeze on each report. The agencies will typically ask you to provide your name, address, birth date and Social Security number, as well as questions to verify your identity. You may receive a PIN used to freeze and unfreeze your credit report if needed.
Freezing your credit with Equifax
Credit freezes with Equifax can be done either on its website or through an automated phone line. The phone number is 1-800-685-1111 (1-800-349-9960 for New York residents). To speak directly with a human, the customer care number is 1-888-298-0045.
Freezing your credit with Experian
To freeze your credit at Experian, you can visit its online Freeze Center or call 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742).
Freezing your credit with TransUnion
You can place a credit freeze with TransUnion online, or over the phone by calling 1-888-909-8872. There's an automated phone system or you can opt to speak to a live agent.
So, as you can see, a credit freeze is fairly straightforward and something you can do whenever you want to help protect your credit data from unwanted attention, among other reasons.