Protect Your Credit for Free with Credit Report Freezes
The two main ways to protect your credit are Credit Locks and Credit Freezes. Many of us learned about these after the data breach at Equifax compromised personal and financial data for nearly half of all Americans last year, and left us wondering what we could do to protect ourselves. Locks and freezes prevent unauthorized credit inquiries from lenders, which is an effective way to stop identity thieves from taking out credit in your name.
While Credit Locks were touted as the quick and easy way to protect your credit, they are not regulated, offer fewer legal protections than freezes if your credit information is compromised, and often come with fees. Like credit locks, credit freezes used to come with fees as well, and consumers often had to pay more than once to freeze or unfreeze their credit file at multiple credit-rating agencies – costing as much as $60 in fees every time you needed to let someone do a credit check.
How to Freeze and Unfreeze Your Credit Report
Freezing and unfreezing your credit reports is simple. You can freeze and unfreeze your credit by mail or over the phone, but the easiest thing to do is go online and set up an account at Equifax,Experian and TransUnion. To fully protect your credit, it is important to do all three. You’ll need to enter information like your social security number to verify your identity when you set up your account, and will need to create a PIN number you can use whenever you want to freeze or unfreeze. TransUnion even has an app that makes it easy to freeze and unfreeze quickly.
Once you freeze your credit reports, the freeze stays in place until you have the credit bureau lift it temporarily or remove it altogether. Requests made by mail must be handled by the credit bureau within three days, and requests made by phone must be handled within one hour. Requests made online are usually handled in a matter of minutes.
To avoid having to unfreeze all three credit reports, ask the lender or realtor checking your credit which reporting agency they use. Also keep in mind that freezing your credit report does not keep current creditors, collection agencies or courts from accessing your credit report, and you may still get pre-approved offers from some lenders if you have not opted out.
For more great tips from American Heritage Credit Union on how to protect your personal and financial information, check out our low-cost identity protection services for members, as well as these 4 Strategies to Keep Your Information Safe and Organized in the Digital Age. And to help set you up for financial success, learn about these 9 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score.