The Ins and Outs of Freezing Your Credit

Many people are rightly concerned about identity theft, and some pay for expensive credit monitoring services.   If you are a victim of identity theft, it can take months to repair your credit and can cost you hundreds of hours and dollars.  Instead of paying for a credit monitoring service, there is another way you can protect your valuable credit—freeze it.

Who Can Freeze Their Credit?

Freezing your credit used to only be an option available to those who had been the victims of identity theft.  However, laws have recently passed that allow anyone to freeze their credit.  (Some states allow identity theft victims to freeze their credit for free but charge those who have not been victims.  You can see the details for every state here.)  When you freeze your credit, it is essentially on lock down.  No one can access your credit report.  You, yourself, will be unable to apply for new credit unless you thaw your credit.  However, if your financial information falls into the wrong hands through identity theft, the crook will not be able to open any credit in your name.

Steps to Take to Freeze Your Credit

To freeze your credit, you will need to pay a small fee, usually around $10 and complete a form.  You will need to freeze your credit with each of the three credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Equifax and Transunion.   After I had a scare two years ago when a thief hacked into my eBay account and charged $1,000 worth of cell phones and products in less than 24 hours, I took the dramatic step of freezing my credit as well as my husband’s.  It was simple to do, and within a week I had the confirmation letters.

Once you freeze your credit, keep the confirmation letters in a VERY safe place.  The confirmation letters contain a code you will need to thaw your credit in the future.  Without that number, thawing your credit can be difficult.

How to Thaw Your Credit

When you are ready to thaw your credit, you can do it temporarily or permanently.  (Most agencies let you temporarily thaw your credit for free; they charge a small fee, approximately $10 to thaw it permanently.)  When my husband and I moved to a new apartment this fall, we needed to thaw our credit so the landlord could access our credit report.  Experian offered a convenient thaw process by phone.  I simply called the number on their website, entered the code I had received in the mail two years ago when I froze my credit, and asked that my credit be thawed for 7 days.  Immediately after the phone call, my credit was available before it was locked down 7 days later.  Unfortunately, the other two credit agencies did not offer such quick service; instead I would have had to have written letters and waited a few weeks for my credit to thaw.  This turned out not to be a problem as my landlord simply chose to pull my Experian report.

Freezing your credit is a simple process that can protect your credit from the hands of a thief and is much less expensive than a credit monitoring service.  In addition, freezing your credit can cut down on your junk mail because you no longer receive credit offers.  Thawing your credit may take a bit of time, but is easy to do.  I have not regretted freezing my credit; I take comfort in the fact that I am protected from thieves searching for my information.