When You Should and Shouldn’t Freeze Your Credit
The primary benefit of a credit freeze is that it prevents fraudsters from opening a credit account in your name if your data should get compromised.
December 6, 2021
Whenever there’s a major consumer data breach, you’re likely to hear a lot of buzz about freezing your credit. A credit freeze can be an effective way to protect yourself against credit fraud, whether or not there’s been an event that raises your concern about identity theft.
Freezing your credit blocks companies from viewing your credit report until you unfreeze your credit. This means no one, including you, can apply for new credit that requires a credit check while your credit is frozen.
So, when should you freeze your credit? Let’s examine the when, the why, and the how.
The benefits of freezing your credit
What does freezing your credit do and what are the benefits of a credit freeze?
Essentially, a credit freeze stops lenders from being able to view your credit report, which means they can’t extend a line of credit in your name. The primary benefit of a credit freeze is that, if someone has stolen your personal information and/or social security number, they won’t be able to open a fraudulent credit account in your name.
Even if you have no reason to believe your personal information is at risk, when you freeze your credit, you’re given the extra peace of mind of knowing your credit report is secure. A credit freeze doesn’t impact your credit score in any way and doesn’t limit how you can utilize any existing credit accounts.
But wait, it gets better. Credit freezes are completely complimentary and can help you avoid making impulsive credit choices — like applying for that store credit card when the cashier offers you a tempting incentive for signing up.
Credit freezes can be relatively low maintenance to maintain and, in the majority of states, credit freezes last indefinitely. When you do want to lift the freeze, you’ll need to contact each credit reporting agency individually, which can feel somewhat tedious if you’re in a rush to apply for new credit.
When should you freeze your credit?
Should I freeze my credit? Good question. It's worth considering freezing your credit if any of the following situations apply to you:
Unexplained bills or collection notices have been mailed to you in either your name or someone else’s
New inquiries or credit accounts that you didn’t make or open have appeared on your credit report
You’ve been notified about fraudulent account activity by your bank, credit union or credit card issuer
You’ve been notified that you could be or are the victim of a data breach
Even if none of these situations apply to you, freezing your credit can protect you in the unfortunate event of identity theft, saving you time and stress down the road.
When shouldn’t you freeze your credit?
As helpful as freezing your credit can be, it’s not necessarily wise to freeze your credit just because. If you’re planning on opening a new credit account soon (like a mortgage, credit card, or auto loan), you may want to keep your credit unfrozen until you've finished applying, as a credit freeze makes it impossible to be approved for new credit. If your credit is already frozen, you can request a temporary lift on the freeze.
A credit freeze can create delays if you’re trying to apply for new credit quickly, however, a credit freeze won’t affect your credit when it comes to applying for a job, renting a new apartment, or signing up for insurance.
How to freeze your credit
The process of freezing your credit looks similar across the three major credit bureaus, but it’s important to file a credit freeze request with Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax separately to fully protect yourself.
Credit freezes are complimentary, so you won’t need to pay for anything during this process, but here are a few steps you can take to speed things along:
Step 1. Contact the credit bureau
Start by contacting the credit bureaus online to establish a credit freeze on their individual websites. You can reach them by phone at the following numbers:
Step 2. Verify your personal info
Next, you may choose to provide each credit bureau with a copy of your photo ID, Social Security Number, and proof of residence to verify your personal information.
Step 3. Get a PIN
You may be given a Personal Identification Number (PIN) by each credit bureau that you’ll use to freeze and unfreeze your credit report moving forward.
Again, it’s important to remember your PIN for each bureau, so you may want to write them all down and store that note in a safe place.
Step 4. Keep an eye on your credit
After you’ve frozen your credit, don’t just walk away and forget all about it. A credit freeze isn’t foolproof protection, so it’s still a good idea to request a complimentary credit report every six months to ensure your on-file information is accurate.
Even with a decreased risk of fraud, mistakes can occur. Companies can accidentally misreport your on-time payments as being late, so it’s still important to check for errors.
How to unfreeze your credit
If your credit is frozen and you need it unfrozen, it shouldn’t be too burdensome to unfreeze it. By law, credit bureaus are required to complete a request to unfreeze credit within an hour if done online or by the phone. That said, if you make the request by snail mail, it could take longer.
To make the process of unfreezing your credit go as smoothly as possible, be sure to remember your password and any required PINs. That way, you’re not wasting valuable time recovering personal information when you could be unfreezing your credit.
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