When it comes to keeping tabs on credit, many people monitor their standing by conducting a credit inquiry. Detailed credit reports outline a person’s borrowing and repayment history.
A credit score, however, sums up a borrower’s likelihood to repay debts. But, on top of knowing where one ranks (scores can range from ‘very poor’ to ‘excellent’), one extra thing to grasp is how to freeze your credit.
After all, credit cards and personal information can (and do) get hacked or stolen. So, knowing how to put a freeze on your credit can help individuals to prevent identity theft or obstruct bad actors from taking out new loans or accounts in a borrower’s name.
Freezing credit isn’t as scary as the term may sound. In fact, it can be quite useful in the right situations. Here’s an overview of how to freeze (and unfreeze) your credit:
What Is A Credit Freeze?
By freezing their credit, the person makes it more difficult for an identity thief to open a new credit account or loan in their name. (Creditors like to review credit reports before okaying new lines of credit.)
However, freezing one’s credit does not prevent a person from viewing their free annual credit report. Moreover, it won’t restrict a person from opening a new account in their own name. They simply need to unfreeze their credit to do so (more on unfreezing later).
What Does Freezing Credit Actually Do?
A “credit freeze” does not actually freeze all outstanding accounts, such as credit cards and loans. Instead, it simply limits others from viewing a person’s credit reports. This means credit bureaus can’t give out personal information about a borrower with a frozen account to lenders, landlords, hiring managers, or credit card companies.
This typically halts the lending, renting, and hiring process, meaning anyone attempting to steal a person’s identity would likely be stopped in their tracks.
Freezing Credit: What’s The Process?
Typically, the agencies ask for a Social Security number, birth date, and other information confirming a person’s identity prior to freezing the account. The bureaus will then give the person a password, which they may use to unfreeze their account. The person requesting a freeze may want to store this information in a safe place.
Does Freezing Credit Cost Anything?
Freezing your credit is always free.
Happily, it costs nothing to freeze and unfreeze one’s credit. In 2018, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act , mandated that credit bureaus offer the service for free to everyone. This act also updated a few terms of service for requesting a freeze and unfreeze.
When a consumer requests a freeze, the credit bureaus must fulfill the request within one business day. When consumers request to lift the freeze by phone or online, however, the credit bureaus must do so within one hour.
Differences Between A Credit Lock And A Credit Freeze
All credit bureaus offer people the chance to either freeze or lock their credit. A credit lock works in much the same way as a credit freeze. But, a credit lock can come with a bit more convenience—as borrowers can opt to open and close their locked credit via an app (rather than needing to reach out to each credit bureau with their password to unfreeze).
And, while offering a credit freeze is complimentary thanks to the federal mandate, a credit lock may be offered for a small fee.
For example, Equifax offers credit locks for free. TransUnion offers a free lock with its TrueIdentity product or as an add-on to other subscription services. Experian offers credit lock as part of a paid subscription.
When To Consider A Credit Freeze:
It’s really up to individual consumers and their own risk tolerance to decide when it’s time to freeze their credit report. However, if a person isn’t actively shopping for a loan or a new credit card it may be a good idea to freeze credit preemptively. This way, a consumer could feel a bit more confident that their credit information is in safe hands.
Another time to mull over a credit freeze is when a borrower believes their data may have been breached (such as the 2017 Equifax data breach ) or if their social security number had recently been disclosed, made public, or stolen.
How To Unfreeze Your Credit:
Unfreezing credit can be simple. All a consumer has to do is reach out to the credit bureaus by phone or via the internet and plug in that password or the PIN number provided to them when they first froze their credit. Generally, it takes a few minutes for the account to become unfrozen.
A person can choose to unfreeze their report at one or all of the credit bureaus, but they will have to contact each individual credit bureau separately. They also need to go through the entire process again if they want to re-freeze their credit down the road.
Individuals can ask to unfreeze their credit for a specific amount of time, if they are applying for a new loan or need someone else to access their account temporarily. Then, the freeze should return automatically when the time period ends.
Alternative Options To Freezing Credit:
While not overly complex, freezing and unfreezing one’s credit can be time-consuming. Additional options are available to consumers. Here are some alternatives:
Setting Up Credit Monitoring
Those not interested in freezing their accounts might instead want to sign up for credit monitoring services (typically for a fee).
Freezing credit could be a simple way to avoid identity theft.
With a credit monitoring service, a user will be alerted about any and all activity on their credit report. So, any time someone requests information, the person will be informed and can confirm or deny its authenticity.
This could help stop any potential identity theft in its tracks. Still, it should be noted that this service cannot fully prevent theft and the consumer may not know their identity was stolen until after the fact.
Requesting A Credit Report
For those interested in monitoring their credit for free, it’s possible to request a no-cost copy of one’s credit report each year from all of the major credit bureaus. The consumer might then review the report, in detail, to ensure they recognize all of the activity and accounts described therein.
If the consumer spots anything out of line, they can then take steps to flag and fix it.
Consolidating Credit Card Debt
Taking out an unsecured personal loan with SoFi could help substantially lower how much a person pays each month to different credit card companies, while collapsing multiple bills into one easy-to-track repayment.
By consolidating credit card debt into one personal loan, a borrower may be able to take advantage of a single fixed-rate debt rather than juggling several high-interest rate cards.
Having a single loan to repay each month could also make it easier to monitor their payment activity.
Individuals who consolidate their credit card debt with SoFi personal loans can also sign up for SoFi Relay—a money and goals management app, where users can see all their financial accounts in one place. They can even use the app’s free credit score monitoring tool to keep track of their credit.
*This story originally appeared on Sofi and was republished with permission