A free credit freeze: What does it mean for you?

December 12, 2019

By Katie Levene

A free credit freeze: What does it mean for you?

A man uses his credit card during his commute.

It’s easy to feel helpless about data breaches and identity threats, but we all have access to an additional free level of security: credit freezes. We share what it means to freeze your credit, who can freeze or unfreeze their credit and how to do it.

The 2018 free credit freeze law

In May 2018, the Senate passed a bill that gave Americans unlimited free credit freezes and unfreezes per year. This law eliminated fees associated with credit freezes and could provide an extra layer of security. The law went into effect in September 2018.

The law also allows parents or guardians of children under 16 to freeze a child’s credit. Since children under 16 often haven’t established a credit file yet, the law lets parents create one through the bureaus and then freeze it.

What does it mean to freeze your credit?

Freezing your credit prevents criminals from using your info to access your line of credit. It provides an extra layer of protection by requiring a PIN and “thawing” of credit to open a credit card or loan in your name. The freeze doesn’t impact your credit score.

This protection has a huge upside. However, there are some downsides too. Once you place a credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, you’ll encounter a lot of legwork to lift it. You’ll need to remember the PIN associated with the freeze and contact each credit bureau to lift it. You’ll also find that the “thawing” process could take a while, which means you cannot get credit in a hurry.

Finally, a common misconception is that a credit freeze can prevent identity theft. It only disables the criminal’s ability to open new credit accounts, which certainly reduces the impact of fraud on the victim. However, there are other steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft and account takeover fraud.

Who should freeze their credit?

Now that you know the pros and cons, should you place a credit freeze? The answer to that is whether fast credit or security will simplify your life.

If you’re concerned about identity theft or have had your identity stolen, then a credit freeze is a great tool. You’ll need to sacrifice some conveniences, but it will help you sleep better if you fear identity theft.

Credit freezes can be inconvenient if you’re applying for a mortgage, credit card or personal loan. So, if you know that you’ll be opening one of those products, you may not want to place a credit freeze. If you already have a credit freeze, you’ll need to lift it. A credit freeze can take anywhere from 15 minutes to three days to lift/thaw.

Even soft credit pulls -- ones that don’t always impact your credit score-- require a credit lift. The types of organizations that will pull a soft credit check include cell phone companies, a potential employer for a background check, utility companies and credit score report agencies.

How to place and lift a credit freeze

Once you’ve decided that a credit freeze is for you, you will need to contact each of the credit bureaus:

Each credit bureau has slightly different steps to freeze your credit. Regardless of the bureau, you’ll need to have your personal information handy, such as your social security number.

If you find you need to lift your credit freeze, you’ll need to contact each of the credit bureaus again. At this time you’ll need to provide your PIN. There is no fee to lift your freeze. The process is easy as long as you have your PIN ready.

Other steps to protect yourself from fraud

A credit freeze is just one way to prevent unwanted lines of credit. No one can completely prevent fraud, but there are ways to set yourself up for success. It’s important to learn how to protect yourself from computer threats and how to set up automatic alerts on your accounts

Katie Levene is a marketer fascinated with finance. Whether the topic is about the psychology of money, investment strategies or simply how to spend better, Katie enjoys diving in and sharing all the details with family, friends and Money Mentor readers. Money management needs to be simplified and Katie hopes she accomplishes that for our readers. The saying goes, "Knowledge is Power", and she hopes you feel empowered after reading Money Mentor.

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