Do you lock the door behind you when you leave your house? Of course you do! Why? To keep anyone that's not supposed to be there from using your house while you're not using it. Freezing your credit is similar. You can 'lock' or 'freeze' your credit file with the three main credit bureaus so that no one else can open a new line of credit without you knowing about it; however, you don't damage your credit in any way, you're just locking it up while not using it. When you do want to open a new line of credit you will have to plan in advance and unfreeze your credit with all three bureaus first.
Each of the three credit bureaus handles freezing a bit differently, but the result is the same: you are pre-emptively locking out identity thieves, although it is a drastic step. I've quickly summarized below how to get your credit file frozen with the three main credit bureaus, including information that they asked me to pass on to you. For more details and information, please visit their websites directly.
The process: You can freeze your credit file at Experian online, by mail, or telephone. The online process is almost instant, within a few minutes. It can take several days before the freeze is in effect the first time and you may need to provide additional documentation if there has been fraud and further identity verification is needed.
The cost: About $10 (but can vary by state laws) if you are freezing as a precaution. If you are a fraud victim and file a police report, there is no cost to freeze the file or lift it as needed. If you are older than 65 in California, there is no cost to freeze your credit file.
The process: When a consumer locks their Equifax credit file, new lenders or creditors cannot access a consumers' Equifax credit file to open an account, and this may provide a greater degree of control around who accesses a consumers' credit information. For those consumers who decide to lock their credit report - also known as placing a security freeze on a credit file - Equifax offers two options:
• For those consumers who do not have a subscription to one of the Equifax credit monitoring products, consumers can visit their website.
• If you have an Equifax credit monitoring product, you can lock and unlock your Equifax credit file instantly online by signing into your account and using the Credit Report Lock feature.
The cost: Equifax credit monitoring products begin at $19.95 per month. If you only want to freeze your credit, it's about $10, depending on state laws.
The process: Placing a freeze through TransUnion is easy. A swipe of your finger. Their website below, call 888-909-8872, or mail a request to P.O. Box 2000, Chester PA 19016. You will need to verify your identity by providing your social security number, date of birth, etc. Also, be prepared to provide payment for any applicable fees.
The cost: About $10, depending on your state laws.
Some final important points about freezing your credit:
• For your protection, freezes need to be placed and lifted with all three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies.
• A freeze will not prevent a thief from using or withdrawing funds from your accounts that are already open, like your current credit cards and bank accounts.
• Your credit information may still be reviewed to extend prescreened offer and your existing lenders also may review your file and may make offers to increase your credit line, for example. Businesses with which you have existing relationships are exempt from the freeze.