In 2017, there were over 133,000 reports of credit card fraud, as reported by an Experian survey. Even worse, consumers suffered losses of $905 million as a result of fraud that same year, the survey adds. 

And with the numbers continuing to rise, it’s no surprise that millions of consumers are searching for ways to protect their credit profile. And a credit freeze is a viable option that doesn’t cost a dime. But what is a credit freeze? How do you place it on your credit report? And once it’s there, how long does it last and can it be lifted? Read on to discover the answers to these questions and much more. 

What Is a Credit Freeze?

A credit freeze is a way to protect your credit profile from being compromised by fraudsters as it prohibits unauthorized access to your credit report, notes Equifax

How It Works

Each time you submit an application for credit, it will automatically be rejected if there’s a freeze on your credit report. The same rule applies for fraudulent applications, which is why credit freezes are so effective. 

This means con artists can’t compromise your identity even if they wanted to because a credit freeze doesn’t even allow them to get past the application phase. 

Is a Credit Freeze The Same as a Credit Lock? 

Although it is another way to shield your credit report from fraudsters, a credit freeze is not the same as a credit lock. They both restrict access to your credit report, but a credit lock is often used as a proactive measure while a credit freeze is used as a reactive measure. 

When you lock your credit, you’re simply restricting access until you’re ready to shop for a debt product or need to grant access to it for some other reason. And immediately before you apply, you can unlock your credit report online so the lender can have access and issue a lending decision. 

But with a credit freeze, the barriers are a bit tougher. You’ll need to login to a password-protected account (Equifax and TransUnion) or enter a unique personal identification number (Experian) to unfreeze your credit reports at each of the three credit bureaus. 

Furthermore, you’ll have more legal protections with a credit freeze in the event your information is compromised.

Cost 

Credit freezes can be placed on or lifted from your credit report at each of the three credit bureaus free of charge. You can also have it removed permanently from your credit reports without incurring a fee. 

Longevity 

There is no set time limit for credit freezes to remain on your credit report. For this reason, it will not lapse until you decide to lift or permanently delete it from your credit report, 

**Quick Note: Credit freezes expire after seven years in some states. 

Benefits of a Credit Freeze

There are a few key benefits to placing a credit freeze, including: 

  • The ability to protect your credit report without jumping through several hoops, subscribing to credit monitoring, or spending a fortune. 
  • Longevity, which means you don’t have to go in every month, week, or even year and place a new credit freeze. 
  • The cost, which is zero, compared to credit locks that can come with a monthly fee. 

Drawbacks of a Credit Freeze

Unfortunately, credit freezes come with a few drawbacks, including: 

  • The need to go through each credit bureau to place or lift a freeze. 
  • The process you have to go through to lift the freeze and start rebuilding your credit score. It’s not too tedious, but if you forget your PIN or are unable to login to your password-protected account, you may have to wait a bit before you can apply for credit. 

Should You Freeze Your Credit? 

It’s a matter of personal preference. If you’re looking for a free way to protect your credit from fraudsters and don’t mind going through the necessary steps to have the credit freeze lifted each time you wish to apply for credit, it may be a good fit.

But if you prefer a less complex solution that allows you to lock and unlock your credit report at the tap of a fingertip without logging into a password-protected account and using a PIN, a credit lock may be a better option. 

How to Request a Credit Freeze 

Equifax 

  • Online: Create a myEquifax account. Once you’re logged in, follow the instructions on the screen to have the credit freeze placed on your credit report.
  • By Phone: Call 1-800-349-9960 and follow the prompts given on the automated line. 
  • By Mail: Download this form and follow the instructions carefully to ensure it’s submitted to the correct place and processed accordingly. 

Experian

  • Online: Complete and submit the online form found here
  • By Phone: Call 1-888-397-3742 to speak with a representative. 
  • By Mail: Send a written request that includes your full name, addresses for the past two years, date of birth, Social Security number, a copy of your driver’s license or state ID card, and a copy of a utility bill, insurance, or bank statement to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013. 

TransUnion

  • Online: Create an online account (insert hyperlink) and you’ll be guided through the process when logging in. 
  • Mobile App: TransUnion also offers a mobile app for iOS and Android devices so you can place a credit freeze on your credit report directly from your mobile device while on the go. 
  • By Phone: Call 1-888-909-8872 to request that a credit freeze be placed on your report. 
  • By Mail: Draft up a written request and mail it to TransUnion, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094. Be sure to include your name, address, and Social Security number in the letter.  

Contact Information By Credit Bureau

Credit Bureau Online By Phone By Mail Mobile App
Equifax https://www.equifax.com/personal/education/identity-theft/fraud-alert-security-freeze-credit-lock/ 1-800-349-9960 See instructions in the form listed above Not available
Experian www.experian.com/freeze/center.html 1-888-397-3742 Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013 Not available
TransUnion www.transunion.com/credit-freeze    1-888-909-8872 TransUnion, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094 Insert hyperlink

How to Lift a Credit Freeze

Equifax

You can lift credit freezes initiated on the phone or via mail by providing the 10-digit PIN that was given to you when you placed the freeze on your report. But if you placed the credit freeze online, simply login to your myEquifax account to lift it. 

Experian

To lift a credit freeze from your Experian report, complete and submit this form. Permanent removals can also be requested online using the same form, by calling 1-888-397-3742, or drafting up a letter and sending it to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013. 

If you choose to write a letter, it should include your name, address, Social Security number, PIN, a copy of your driver’s license or state ID card, and a copy of a bill or bank statement to prove you are who you say you are. 

TransUnion

To lift a credit freeze with TransUnion, login to the online portal or visit the mobile app on your iOS or Android device. Select the option that reads “Temporarily Lift Freeze”. You’ll be prompted to enter the dates that you want the lift to be effective. Requests could take up to one hour to process but most are effective right away. 

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Do credit freezes impact your credit score? 

Absolutely not. There is no impact to your credit score when placing, lifting or permanently deleting a credit freeze from your credit report. 

Should you place a credit freeze with each bureau?

Unfortunately, a credit freeze at one bureau will not be effective across the board at the others. Therefore, you want to initiate separate requests to make sure you’re covered on all ends. 

Can creditors view your credit report even if you have a freeze placed? 

If you have an active account with a lender, credit card company, or any other entity that had access to your credit report before the freeze was placed, they will be able to view your credit report. Why so? Well, creditors view reports on a consistent basis to determine if you’re properly managing other credit accounts and if you’re eligible for more competitive interest rates or higher credit limits. However, the credit freeze restricts them from establishing new accounts in your name, notes TransUnion. 

But keep in mind that there are certain instances that credit freezes won’t restrict access to your credit report, including credit monitoring initiated by you and underwriting insurance, TransUnion adds. 

Can you freeze your child’s credit report? 

The credit bureaus permit you to place a credit freeze on your minor child’s credit report, but requests must be submitted by mail. You’ll need to provide a written statement requesting a protected consumer freeze on his or her credit report. Be sure to include your child’s name in the letter, along with documentation that establishes your identity, your child’s identity, and proof that you have the right to act on his or her behalf. 

Some credit bureaus require that you complete a form in lieu of a written statement, as indicated below. 

  • Equifax: Send the security freeze form and supporting documentation to Equifax Information Services LLC, P.O. Box 10578, Atlanta, GA 30348. 
  • Experian: Send the written statement and supporting documentation to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013. If you wish to send the contents via overnight mail, forward them to Experian, 701 Experian Parkway, Allen, TX 75013. 
  • TransUnion: Send the written statement and supporting documentation to TransUnion, P.O. Box 380, Woodlyn, PA 19094. 

Will credit freezes stop you from getting pre-screened offers in the mail? 

Not at all. Pre-screened credit offers are generated from soft credit inquiries, which do not impact your score. So you’ll continue to receive offers creditors feel you’re a good match for unless you choose not to by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com and opting out.

Author

Allison Martin is a syndicated financial writer, author, and Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI). She has written about personal finance for almost ten years and holds a master's degree in Accounting from the University of South Florida. Allison's work has been featured on The Wall Street Journal, ABC, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, Fox Business, Credit.com, MoneyTalksNews, Investopedia, The Simple Dollar, and a host of other reputable publications. She also travels around the nation facilitating financial literacy and business workshops to individuals from all walks of life. In her spare time, Allison enjoys traveling, cuddling up with a good book, and spending time with family. She lives in Florida with her husband and two young sons.

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