As of September 21, 2018, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. Credit freezes restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
Don’t confuse freezes with locks. They work in a similar way, but locks may have monthly fees.
If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then opt for a freeze, not a lock.
How Will These Freezes Work?
Contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour.
If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it gets your request. You also can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee.
Year-Long Fraud Alerts
A fraud alert tells businesses that check your credit that they should check with you before opening a new account. Starting September 21, 2018, when you place a fraud alert, it will last one year, instead of 90 days. Fraud alerts will still be free and identity theft victims can still get an extended fraud alert for seven years.
If you think a credit reporting agency is not placing a credit freeze or fraud alert properly, you can submit a complaint online or by calling 855-411-2372.
If you think someone stole your identity, visit the FTC’s website, IdentityTheft.gov, to get a personalized recovery plan that walks you through the steps to take.
Q: What is the difference between a lock and a freeze?
Both a credit freeze and a credit lock limit access to your credit file so no one, including you, can open new accounts until you unlock your credit file. To be fully protected by a credit freeze or a credit lock, you must place a freeze or lock with all three nationwide credit reporting agencies.
However, with a lock, you do not get a PIN. Usually, you do not need to wait to lock or unlock your credit file, although the current Equifax lock can take 24 to 48 hours. You can lock and unlock your credit file from a computer or mobile device through an app, but not with a phone call.
A lock lasts only as long as you have an ongoing lock agreement with a credit reporting agency. In some cases, you need to pay a monthly fee to maintain your lock service. Credit reporting agencies can set and change lock fees at any time.
If you sign up for a lock, it’s hard to be sure what your legal protections will be if something goes wrong later. Credit freezes are now governed by federal law.
Q: Is there a limit on how many times you may freeze your account?
No, there is not a limit on how many times you may place a freeze your credit files.
Q: What do I need to do for this to get started?
Use the Credit Bureau Contacts in this blog post to make your request.
Q: When lifting a freeze temporarily for free, how long does the “Lift” stay in effect?
When you lift a freeze, you have two options. These two options are available to everyone in the country.
- You can lift a freeze permanently. If you do, it stays lifted until you place it again.
- You can lift a freeze temporarily. If you do, you must tell the credit reporting agency the length of time you want the freeze to be lifted; for example, “five days.” The credit reporting agency will put the freeze back on at the end of the time you chose.
Remember to contact each of the three national credit reporting agencies separately to lift and replace a freeze on your credit files.