Table of Contents
How do you freeze your credit?
To freeze your credit, you’ll need to individually contact the three credit bureaus that supply your credit reports (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). You can request a credit freeze online, over the phone, or in a letter.
If you want to freeze your credit online, you’ll need to sign up for an account with a username and password. You’ll receive a PIN, which you can use to freeze and unfreeze your credit. If you request your credit freeze over the phone or via mail, you don’t need to register an account.
Verifying your identity
Generally, to put a freeze on your credit, you’ll need to provide the following information:
- Your name
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Addresses for the past two years
If you contact the bureaus online or over the phone, they’ll ask you a few security questions about your previous addresses and your credit report to verify your identity.
If you send your credit freeze request via mail, you’ll need to attach documentation proving that you are who you say you are (like a copy of your passport or driver’s license) and verifying your current address (like a utility bill, bank statement, or house deed).
Where should I submit my credit freeze request?
Submit your credit freeze request to the bureaus using the contact details listed below:
|Online||Fill out the credit freeze form on Experian’s website||Fill out the credit freeze form on Equifax’s website||Fill out the credit freeze form on TransUnion’s website|
|By phone||1-(888) 397‑3742||Automated line: 1-(800) 349-9960|
Customer service line:
|By mail||Mail your request with the necessary documents to the following address:|
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554,
Allen, TX 75013
|Print Equifax’s credit freeze form and submit it along with other documents to the following address:|
Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA, 30348-5788
|Mail your request with the necessary documents to the following address:
P.O. Box 160,
Woodlyn, PA 19094
How to freeze your child’s credit
Minors aren’t supposed to have credit reports, so if your child has one, you should freeze it immediately because it means that someone has illicitly opened an account in their name. (This is unfortunately common; children are actually more likely to be victims of credit fraud than adults.)1
Before you can freeze your child’s credit report, you’ll need to give each bureau copies of the following documents:
- Government-issued ID to prove your identity, such as your passport, driver’s license, Social Security number (SSN) card, or birth certificate.
- Proof that you are your child’s parent or guardian, such as your child’s birth certificate, a court order giving you legal guardianship, a power of attorney, or a foster care certificate.
- Proof of your child’s identity, meaning both your child’s birth certificate and SSN card. Visit your local Social Security office if you can’t find your child’s SSN card.
How much does a credit freeze cost?
Freezing your credit doesn’t cost any money. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are mandated by federal law to give you or your children a free credit freeze.2 There’s also no fee for unfreezing your credit when you want to apply for a new credit account.
What’s the difference between a credit freeze and a credit lock?
The main difference is that with a credit lock, you can lock and unlock your credit instantly, whereas placing or reversing a credit freeze usually takes a little longer.
Legally, the bureaus have three business days to freeze or unfreeze your credit if you make your request by mail, and they must freeze your credit within one business day or unfreeze it within one hour if you make your request online or by phone. 3
Moreover, while credit freezes are always free, you might have to pay to lock your credit, depending on the bureau. For instance, Experian charges $19.99 a month for their credit locking service.4 Equifax and TransUnion will both lock your credit report for free.5 6
However, to sign up for Experian or Transunion, you’ll have to sign a class-action waiver (a contract that stops a group of people from filing a lawsuit together) to use their credit locking services.7 8 This means that if either suffers a data breach while your credit is locked and your credit information is stolen, you won’t be able to join a group lawsuit against them.
In contrast, per the terms of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), freezing your credit does not come with any such restrictions.
What happens when you freeze your credit
After you freeze your credit, prospective lenders will be unable to look at your credit report. Because most lenders require a credit check, a credit freeze protects your credit by ensuring that fraudsters won’t be able to open any new credit accounts in your name.
However, many other parties will still be able to view your report. Credit freezes don’t guarantee total privacy—they only block prospective lenders because that’s enough to fulfill their main purpose, which is preventing the creation of fraudulent accounts.
The following parties will still be able to access your credit report while it’s frozen:
- You: To review your credit report
- Your current lender, creditor, or debt collectors: To update information about your debts
- Your prospective landlord or property manager: To evaluate you as a potential tenant
- Your current or potential employer: To conduct background checks
- Insurance companies: To determine how much to charge (insurers know you’re more likely to file a claim if you have a lower credit score)
- Government or child-support agencies: To execute court orders, warrants, and background checks (e.g., for a security clearance)
- Cell phone and utility contractors: To check if you’re likely to make payments on time
Your report will also still be available to credit card companies for pre-screenings (to check if you’re eligible for a new credit card and invite you to get one). You’ll have to unfreeze your credit to take advantage of these offers, which means that if a fraudster intercepts one of them, they won’t be able to take out a card in your name.
If you want, you can block these prescreens (either for five years or permanently) by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com or by calling 1-(888) 567-8688.
How long do credit freezes last?
Your credit report will remain frozen indefinitely until you choose to unfreeze it.
Remember to thaw your credit before you:
- Buy a home, a car, or an insurance policy
- Apply for loans or credit cards
- Apply for a job (72% of employers conduct background checks on job applicants, and 29% of these background checks involve a credit check)9
- Rent an apartment
- Sign up for a cell phone plan or utility account
How to unfreeze your credit
You can unfreeze your credit by contacting the bureaus online, over the phone, or via mail.
To unfreeze your credit report online, you’ll need to provide the PIN you were given when you originally froze your credit. You’ll have to request a new PIN from each of the bureaus individually if you’ve lost it.
The bureaus must thaw your credit within one hour if you apply online or call them. However, if you send your request in the mail, you’ll have to wait up to three business days for the bureaus to unfreeze your credit report.
Why should I freeze my credit?
If you suspect a fraudster has stolen your identity, you should freeze your credit immediately.
Here are some signs that you might be the victim of identity theft and should consider freezing your credit:
- You’ve been told your information was compromised in a data breach (if this happens, the credit bureau or company that was hacked has a legal obligation to tell you right away)10
- You receive bills or collection notices that don’t belong to you
- Your credit report shows inquiries or credit accounts from lenders you don’t recognize
- Your bank or credit union notifies you about fraudulent activity on your account
If you don’t want to freeze your credit, consider putting a fraud alert on your report. Fraud alerts last for 12 months and they notify prospective lenders who access your report that they need to take extra steps to confirm your identity.
You’ll still be able to apply for new credit after activating a fraud alert. Unlike when you freeze your credit, if you send a fraud alert to one of the three credit bureaus, they will also inform the other two.
The pros and cons of freezing your credit
Freezing your credit is sometimes necessary, but it also comes with certain downsides.
Pros of freezing your credit
- Prevents further identity theft: When you freeze your credit, you prevent prospective lenders from reading your report, so they’ll deny any further lines of credit or personal loans that fraudsters try to open in your name.
- It won’t hurt your credit score: Freezing and unfreezing your report won’t hurt your credit score, no matter how often you do it.
Cons of freezing your credit
- Inconvenience: To get a mortgage, loan, or credit card, you’ll have to unfreeze your credit, which can delay the process by several days.
- Limited protection: Freezing your credit doesn’t stop people from using your existing credit cards to access your bank account or buy things.
Essentially, freezing your credit prevents fraudsters from opening new accounts in your name, but that’s all it does. If your credit card, account information, or personal information has already been stolen, freezing your credit won’t stop fraudsters from:
- Using your card to buy things and take out cash advances (short-term loans from a bank or ATM)
- Making withdrawals and transferring money from your bank account
- Changing your card’s account details
- Getting a copy of your credit card sent to their address
Ultimately, if your information was compromised and you want to protect yourself, freezing your credit isn’t enough, although it’s a good (and necessary) first step. You’ll also need to notify your creditors and card issuers, potentially cancel your credit and debit cards, change all of your passwords, and monitor your accounts closely for suspicious activity.
What to do if you suspect someone is using your credit
If you suspect that someone is using your credit card, you should contact the card issuer immediately (they’ll usually have a 24/7 emergency number that you can call). Your issuer will cancel your card so that the fraudster won’t be able to use it anymore. They’ll also mail you a new card with a different number.
Under the terms of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), you don’t have to repay your issuer for fraudulent charges if your credit card number is stolen but you still have the card itself. However, if your physical card is stolen, then how much you’re liable to pay depends on how quickly you report it. 11
You’re only liable for charges that the fraudster incurs before you notify your card issuer, so be sure to do that as soon as possible.