A credit freeze is a tool for restricting access to your credit report. By freezing your report at each of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, dand TransUnion) you prevent any new creditors from accessing your credit report.
Since pulling your credit report is almost always the first step to giving you a new credit account (think credit card, personal loan, car loan, etc) it’s almost impossible to open new credit accounts in your name while your credit is frozen.
A freeze helps protect you from identity theft (specifically credit accounts fraudulently opened in your name) but it also means that you’ll need to think ahead and unfreeze your credit before you apply for any new credit of your own.
To freeze your credit you’ll have to contact each of the credit reporting companies individually.
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742 or online here
- Equifax: 1-800-349-9960 or online here
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872 or online here
You’ll likely need information like your Social Security number, birthdate, and address to prove your identity when you’re initiating the freeze and it can take as long as 24 to 48 hours for your freeze to take effect. You’ll receive a confirmation from each credit reporting company along with a Personal Identification Number you’ll need to save in a safe place. That PIN will be required when you want to lift the credit freeze, either temporarily or permanently – so don’t lose it!
Once your credit is frozen at all three agencies anyone requesting your credit report for new credit accounts won’t be able to get it. It likely will be released to your current creditors (existing mortgage, credit cards, etc) and any debt collectors working on their behalf who request it.
If you want to apply for a new credit card, a mortgage, an apartment rental, or anywhere that needs to check your credit you’ll need to remember to un-freeze your credit well ahead of time with the provided PIN.
You’ll have to lift the freeze individually at each credit agency since you can’t do it all at once in one place or with one phone call. Don’t wait until the last minute for this – while it’s supposed to take only an hour if you request online or by phone, it can take up to three business days so you should plan ahead to be safe. That’s the real downside to a credit freeze; it’s another thing to manage and remember when you’re doing anything involving credit, even things like renting an apartment that don’t actually involve you getting a loan or credit card.
Freezing your credit won’t lower your credit score – it has no impact at all.
It also doesn’t prevent you from getting your own free credit report every year from each credit reporting agency at www.annualcreditreport.com.
As of September 21, 2018 credit freezes are free in the United States.
The Federal Trade Commission has more information here about the new consumer protections and links to Equifax’s, TransUnion’s and Experian’s freeze pages. You can also find information about freezing your child’s credit.
Credit freezes are a strong tool for preventing identity theft but do add an additional step to requesting new credit of your own. You’ll still need to keep an eye on existing credit and banking accounts since freezing your credit doesn’t prevent fraud on your current accounts.