A credit report freeze is an excellent tool you can use to help protect your identity as well as your financial health. With credit and identity fraud running rampant today, it’s important to have a well thought out plan to help you keep your reputation unscathed.
As part of your strategy, consider implementing a credit freeze. We’ll show you the ropes on how to navigate a credit freeze to work to your benefit, including what it does and does not do.
How do you put a freeze on your credit?
A credit freeze can be an effective tool in protecting yourself against identity theft. While it doesn’t entirely stop new accounts from being opened in your name, it greatly reduces the chances.
Even if an identity thief obtains sensitive information like your social security number, they’re unlikely to get approved for new credit. That’s because a credit freeze prohibits anyone from accessing your credit report.
When a fraudulent application is submitted to a credit card company, for example, the creditor will most likely try to request a hard pull of your credit report. With a credit freeze in place, they won’t be able to complete this step, and in most cases, this should result in the application being denied.
Plus, a credit freeze has no impact on your credit score, so there’s no risk in implementing this additional security measure. You can still access your own free credit reports each year from AnnualCreditReport.com.
To put a freeze on your credit report, you need to contact each credit bureau independently. Here are the phone numbers for contacting each one:
- Equifax: 1 (800) 349-9960
- Experian: 1 (888) 397-3742
- TransUnion: 1 (888) 909-8872
You’ll need to provide some personal information each time, such as your social security number. This allows the credit bureau to verify your identity. Once that step is complete, you’ll receive a personal identification number (PIN) in the mail. You need to keep that number in order to unfreeze your credit reports when you’re ready. If you lose it, you’ll have to verify your identity all over again.
How much does a credit freeze cost?
There’s a been a major recent change regarding credit freeze fees, and it works in favor of consumers. Until the fall of 2018, you have to pay a small fee to both implement a credit freeze as well as lift it when you’re ready.
The exact cost depends on a few different factors.
The first is where you live; each state has its own laws regarding how much the credit bureaus can charge for this service. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay anywhere between $5 and $20 on both sides of the process. Unfortunately, the fees apply to each credit bureau, so the cost can add up fast, especially if there’s more than one adult in your family.
Some states do require that the fee is waived for senior citizens. Check your state’s specific laws to see if you meet the age requirement. Victims of identity theft are usually eligible for free credit freezes. You’ll just need to prove your circumstance with paperwork from the investigation.
Both freezing and unfreezing your credit became free to everyone in the U.S. in September 2018. This service extends to children as well, who are often targeted by identity thieves because parents don’t think to monitor their credit.
But with major security breaches happening at all types of institutions, including health insurance companies, it’s entirely possible that your child’s social security number has been compromised. A long-term credit freeze can help protect their financial history until they’re ready to use it themselves.
How long does a credit freeze last?
This is another consideration that depends on where you live. In the vast majority of states, a freeze remains in place until you lift it. In a few states, it automatically expires after seven years.
Again, it’s smart to find out how your state implements credit freeze law so that you stay in control of information regarding your accounts. Even when your credit freeze is in place, it’s not technically a total freeze.
Who can still access your credit report while it’s frozen?
Your existing creditors can still access your information, as can any debt collectors they hire. Additionally, government agencies can still get the information if they’re acting on behalf of an administrative or court order, a search warrant, or a subpoena.
When you decide to apply for any type of new credit you have the ability to either permanently lift the freeze or just lift it temporarily. That gives you a window to allow your potential new creditor to access your credit report, then put the protections back in place.
Keep in mind that some entities other than creditors also check your credit report. Employers, landlords, and even insurance companies oftentimes use your credit history as part of the application process. If they’re just using information from one credit bureau, you can save some time and money by finding out which one and only lifting the freeze from that specific bureau.
Is it a good idea to do a credit freeze?
A credit freeze can be an effective long-term tool to help keep your identity protected. If you’re planning on making a major purchase that requires financing in the near future, you may want to lift the freeze while you’re rate shopping to make sure the creditor’s approval decision is made on comprehensive information. Remember that it takes a few days for the lift to go into effect after you request it, so plan ahead.
While a credit freeze is helpful in many situations, it does come with some limitations. It does not get you out of prescreened credit offers. In order to accomplish that, you’ll have to either call (888) 5OPTOUT or visit OptOutPrescreen.com.
A credit freeze also won’t cover all of your bases in the event your identity is compromised. It doesn’t monitor your financial accounts, so you still need to do that on your own. If you’re worried that your personal or financial information has been stolen, but not necessarily used yet, there is some action you can take.
An initial fraud alert protects you from unverified credit access for 90 days or more. It’s a good resource if your wallet or other personal information has been stolen.
If you’ve already become a victim of identity theft, you’re entitled to an extended fraud alert. This protects your credit for seven years after the incident and is a free service. For military members who are deployed on active duty, there’s a one-year alert for credit protection as well.
Credit fraud is an unfortunate reality of living in today’s world. Luckily, there are many resources to use as intervention through each stage of dealing with it. To help protect your identity theft before it even happens, a credit freeze can go a long way in preventing a lot of damage. Just don’t forget that you’ve put one in place so that you can manage it throughout your various credit applications in the coming years.