Credit Freeze Guide: The best way to protect yourself against identity theft

  • Clark Howard
  • Clark.com
6:45 a.m. Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 Business and Money news

With Equifax’s announcement of its catastrophic security breach, now would be a really good time to consider freezing your credit, if you haven’t already. Credit freezes are one of the most effective ways for consumers to protect themselves against identity theft — and this goes for anyone at any time — regardless of whether you were impacted by this specific breach.

And it’s imperative that you freeze your credit with all three main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Below is a quick reference guide on how to put a freeze in place with each bureau, followed by more information on the process, how to thaw your credit and more.

How to freeze your credit with all three agencies

TransUnion

Equifax

Experian

What exactly is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily “thaw” your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed. The added layer of security means that thieves can’t establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.

Freezing your credit files has no impact whatsoever on your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. You can continue to use them as you regularly would even when your credit is frozen.

Freezes have been available for free to victims of identity theft for some years, but recently all three of the major credit bureaus adopted new rules that now allow non-victims to have access to credit freezes as well for a small fee. In addition, most states and Puerto Rico have adopted laws establishing credit freezes for residents of their state.

Residents of various states may also freeze the credit reports of their minor children. Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures to see what the law is in your state.

The cost ranges from about $3 to $10 per person per bureau to freeze a credit report; a couple of states have higher fees.

*When you do a credit freeze, it is imperative that you freeze your credit with all three bureaus.*

When shouldn’t you freeze your credit?

If your credit reports are accessed often for work or because you create new accounts with various financial institutions on a regular basis, it is not recommended that you freeze your accounts. The costs to regularly “thaw” your reports would tend to be excessive.

How/when to thaw your credit

The cost to “thaw” your reports for one creditor — or for a specific period of time — ranges from free to $10.

Four states remove your credit freeze automatically after seven years. These states are Kentucky, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.

In most states, your credit freeze remains permanently on your files until you request removal. But not so in the states listed above, according to the Consumers Union’s guide to security freeze protection.

If you’re a resident of one of these states, pay close attention. You’ll need to set some kind of calendar reminder for seven years from the date of placement. That will serve as a reminder to refresh your credit freeze status before it drops off your radar completely and you go months or years without this key protection against identity theft!

Below you’ll find directions and links to assist you in obtaining your credit freeze or thaw from each major bureau.

Detailed instructions: How to freeze and thaw your credit with each agency

EQUIFAX CREDIT FREEZE

EXPERIAN CREDIT FREEZE

TRANSUNION CREDIT FREEZE

If you have specific questions about the Equifax breach and how it may impact you, contact Clark’s Consumer Action Center — a FREE help line open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. EST with volunteers available to answer YOUR concerns! Call Team Clark @ 404-892-8227.

View full experience