A credit report freeze, also known as credit freeze, allows you to limit access to your credit report from lenders. It may also keep scammers from using your credit report to open new accounts. A credit lock, also known as a security lock, has the same outcome as a credit freeze but the process is a bit faster.
Keep in mind if you're looking to open a new account, most creditors need to review your credit report before approving or denying your request. If a creditor cannot access your credit report because of a freeze or lock, you likely will not be able to open a new account.
Here's an in-depth look at how to put a freeze or lock on your credit report and when you might want to unfreeze or unlock it.
Difference between credit freeze and credit lock
Credit freezes and credit locks are similar, and in both cases are used to restrict access to your credit by protecting it from scammers, credit fraud and identity theft. Credit lock services may carry a monthly fee or be packaged with other identity monitoring services. Credit freezes are usually free and may provide additional legal coverage that a lock does not.
When should I consider freezing or locking my credit report?
The main reason you would freeze or lock your report is if you're concerned that your personal data has been compromised. Keep in mind that initiating a credit freeze means that you are unable to open a new credit card account or a loan. A credit lock is good for the same reasons but might be a better option if you think you'll be looking for a credit card or loan soon.
Credit locks can also be used as a preventative measure. Sometimes you already know or suspect a breach has happened, and the freeze or lock may be in response to that. Other times, you may want to prevent potential fraud from happening, such as identity theft, and choose to proactively lock your report.
How do I freeze my credit report?
To place a freeze on your credit report, you'll need to contact each of the three major credit reporting bureaus — Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion® — individually. The quickest and easiest way to freeze your credit report is either online or by phone, but you can also contact each bureau by mail.
To freeze your credit with any bureau, you'll need to provide your full name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and possibly other personal information. If you're working with Experian®, they will provide you with a PIN or password that you will need to unfreeze your credit.
According to Experian®, by law, credit bureaus must activate a credit freeze within 24 hours of receiving a request online or by phone, and they must unfreeze it within one hour of that request.
Freezing your report with Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion®
Make sure you contact each of these bureaus separately. Just because you freeze your report with one bureau does not mean the other two major bureaus will follow suit; you must make individual requests.
- If you're submitting a credit freeze for yourself on Experian®, you can submit this form.
- To submit a credit freeze on Equifax®, you'll need to create a myEquifax account. From there, you can submit or manage a credit freeze.
- For TransUnion®, you'll need to create a free account online or by using the myTransUnion app.
How do I lock my credit report?
The three major credit reporting bureaus have online services you can navigate to lock your account.
Locking your report with Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion®
- Experian® offers credit locking as part of its CreditWorks℠ Premium subscription service.
- Equifax® offers a free lock & alert service.
- TransUnion® has a service for a monthly fee, with the ability to lock both your TransUnion® and Equifax® reports.
Does a credit freeze or lock affect my credit score?
A credit freeze and a credit lock do not affect your credit score. Here are some other things they don't do:
- Keep you from getting your free annual credit report.
- Prevent you from renting an apartment, applying for a job or purchasing insurance.
- Keep a thief from fraudulently using existing accounts.
Who has access if I put a freeze or lock on my credit reports?
A credit freeze limits access to your credit report, but there are a few exceptions. The people and institutions that can still review your credit report while it's frozen include:
- Your current creditors and debt collectors.
- Government and child support agencies.
Pros and cons of a credit freeze or credit lock
There are advantages and disadvantages to consider when freezing or locking your credit.
- Limits creditors or potential fraudsters from opening a new account in your name.
- You can limit fraud that could occur from identity theft.
- Freezing and unfreezing are both free.
- Contacting the three credit bureaus takes substantial time and effort.
- To give a creditor access to your report, you'll need to lift the freeze.
- You'll need to keep track of your PINs from each bureau.
How do I unfreeze or unlock my credit report?
Unfreezing your credit requires you to contact each of the national credit bureaus that you initially used to freeze your credit. You can lift your credit freeze temporarily or permanently, depending on what you're looking to do. Unlocking your credit is immediate and can be done by simply logging into your account from your phone or other electronic device.
Temporarily unfreezing your credit gives creditors access to your report for a set period of time before refreezing. Permanently unfreezing your credit leaves your report open unless you submit another request to freeze it.
You should feel empowered to protect yourself against potential fraud. Now, if you lose a credit card or suspect identity theft, you'll know what to do to take immediate action.