Credit Freeze

How to Freeze Your Credit For Free: Everything You Need to Know

September 25, 2018
Mandi SieversBy Mandi Sievers
Assistant V.P. of Retail & Bank Security Officer 

Anyone can now freeze and unfreeze their credit for free, thanks to a new federal law that went into effect on September 21, 2018. Credit freezes were already free in Iowa and Nebraska (under state laws passed earlier this year), but now residents in South Dakota — and states across the nation — can also lock down their credit for free.

A credit freeze can be one of your most effective lines of defense to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft. However, we want you to be aware of all the details that freezing your credit involves. Read on to learn how to freeze your credit for free and what a credit freeze entails.

Credit Freeze FAQs

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze or security freeze is a request you submit separately to each of the nation 's three credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to freeze your credit report. The freeze restricts anyone from pulling your credit reports without your approval, making it more difficult for identity thieves to apply for credit cards or loans in your name.

Is a Credit Freeze the same as a Credit Lock?

They are similar, but not the same.

A "credit freeze" is free, under federal law, and it restricts access to your credit report. But to unfreeze your file, you must call the credit bureaus and submit a request.

A "credit lock," on the other hand, is not free. It also restricts access like a credit freeze, but with the added ability to unlock your credit report immediately through your own computer or mobile device (without having to reach out to the credit bureaus). The three credit bureaus sometimes promote their credit lock services, since they likely carry a monthly fee.

What is the difference between fraud alert and credit freeze?

A "fraud alert" is less severe than a freeze. It alerts lenders that your data may have been compromised, and that they 'll need to take extra steps to verify your identity before approving you for a loan or new credit account. The new federal law also extends the length fraud alerts must remain on your credit reports, from 90 days to one year.

When should I consider freezing my credit?

If you 're concerned about identity theft, data breaches or unauthorized access to your credit report — especially in the wake of security breaches like the Equifax hack - you might want to consider placing a freeze on your credit. Since most businesses will never open a credit card or loan account for anyone, without first checking into their credit history, the freeze will make it extremely difficult for identity thieves to get past that extra line of defense.

If you don 't want to place a credit freeze, you could also consider a credit lock or at the very least, a fraud alert.

How do I freeze my credit for free?

You must contact each one of the three main credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - to request a freeze:

You will be asked to provide your name, social security number, birth date, address, and other personal information. Upon receiving your request, the 3 credit agencies will give you a PIN number to keep in a safe place, and use when you want to lift the freeze. The freeze will remain in place, until you contact the credit bureaus again to either temporarily lift the freeze or remove it altogether.

How long does a credit freeze last?

A credit freeze lasts until you decide to lift it. When you decide to lift your credit freeze, you can choose to lift it temporarily or permanently. A permanent lift would remain in effect until you decide to re-freeze your credit. A temporary lift would require you to inform each credit bureau of the duration of the lift. Lifting a credit freeze is free, and replacing the freeze is also free.

When and how do I lift a credit freeze?

If you plan to apply for a loan or credit card, purchase new insurance, or pass an upcoming background check for employment, you will need to lift or "unfreeze" your credit so the business can access your report. It will also be free, and law requires that the freeze be lifted in less than an hour. However, we recommend lifting your credit freeze at least 3 days before you plan to apply for a job or loan, just to be safe.

To unfreeze your report, you will need to have the PIN that each agency supplied you with when you originally requested the freeze.

Who can still see my credit if it 's frozen?

Even if your credit is frozen, certain entities will still have access to your credit information, including:

  • Existing creditors or debt collectors (who you currently have a loan with)
  • Government agencies, in response to court or administrative orders, subpoenas or search warrants

Anyone else who requests your file from one of the three agencies will receive notice that your file is frozen, and nothing else.

Can I open new credit accounts or apply for a loan while my credit is frozen?

No, you must first lift your freeze to get a new credit card or loan. You can either lift it for a small period of time or lift it permanently (until you choose to unfreeze it).

If I freeze my credit will my score change?

No, a credit freeze does not affect your credit score at all.

Can I still order my free annual credit report while my file is frozen?

Yes, you can still order a copy of your credit report once every year, and this is not affected by freezing or unfreezing your own report. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com to order your free credit report.

Am I able to freeze family members' credit files, too?

You can request a free freeze for your children who are under 16, any dependents over that age, or a loved one over whom you have a valid power of attorney. Remember, every person has their own credit score, which means you and your spouse will need to place three freezes (one for Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) for every individual.

Can someone else freeze my credit report?

No, unless you are under 16 or you have a legal financial caregiver, someone else cannot freeze your credit report. Anyone attempting to freeze another person’s credit will have to have proof of their authority to do so. This means providing any relevant court orders and/or proof of power of attorney. Proof of identity may also be required.

The Bottom Line

It's important to remember that while a security freeze is a great method for prevention of identity theft, it cannot guarantee you will not be a victim of identity theft. There are many types of identity theft besides credit fraud (including government benefits, insurance, phishing, card skimming, romance scams, etc.). So the most important thing is to remain vigilant and monitor all of your financial accounts on a frequent basis.

To stay up-to-date on the latest financial security tips, subscribe to the SNB newsletter for monthly updates delivered to your inbox.

About the Author

Mandi Sievers

Mandi Sievers is the Assistant Vice President of Retail Services and Bank Security Officer at Security National Bank in Sioux City, Iowa. She has more than a decade of management experience in the financial industry, and works with local law enforcement on a regular basis to prevent fraud and identity theft around Siouxland.