How to Freeze Your Credit
Written by Joe Eskridge
You most likely know the importance of checking the accuracy of your credit reports that lenders review before deciding to make a loan or issue a credit card. Federal law allows you to get free copies once a year. Your credit reports are maintained by consumer reporting agencies such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. However, you may not be aware that these agencies allow you to prohibit them from releasing information in your credit report without your express authorization. In industry parlance, this is known as “freezing” your credit reports.
Freezing your credit reports adds a layer of security so that thieves can’t establish new credit, loans or services in your name even if they are able to obtain your ID. Incidentally, the three pieces of ID thieves need to obtain credit in your name are your social security, date of birth and current address. Be vigilant about protecting these pieces of your ID.
When you place a security freeze on your credit report, you will be provided a personal identification number (PIN) or password that only you know to use if you choose to remove the freeze on your credit report or authorize the release of your credit report. In industry parlance, removing the freeze is known as “thawing” your credit report.
Unless you are a victim of identity theft with a police report to verify the crimes, a consumer reporting agency has the right to charge you to place a freeze on your credit report. If you are a victim of identity theft and you submit a copy of a valid police report, no fee will be charged. My wife, Beth, and I froze our credit years ago. Because we were not victims of any credit-related crime when we froze our credit, we had to pay $10 to each agency. However, $30 later, we haven’t had to worry about data breaches, unsolicited offerings of credit, etc. in years!
Despite what the credit bureaus would have you believe, it is simple to “freeze” and “thaw” your credit report. Additionally, freezing your credit report has no impact whatsoever on your existing lines of credit, such as existing loans or credit cards. You can continue to use your existing lines of credit as you regularly would even when your credit report is frozen.
While your credit report is frozen, no one—not even you—can obtain new credit in your name. When I want to thaw my credit file, I go online with Experian and Equifax and a few clicks later I’m done. For some reason—probably because the credit bureaus hate it when you freeze your credit reports (they can no longer sell your data)—I always have to call TransUnion’s 800-number to thaw my report. With all three agencies, I can permanently thaw my credit report or choose to thaw it for a specified period of time. After that specified period of time, the credit report re-freezes automatically. As mentioned earlier, a consumer reporting agency has the right to charge you up to $10.00 to place a freeze on your credit report. I have never been charged a fee to thaw my credit report.
I strongly recommend that you freeze your credit reports. When you decide to move forward, it is imperative that you freeze your credit with all three consumer reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.