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The long list of massive data breaches from companies like Capital One, Equifax, and Marriot may have you worried about your identity being stolen and your credit being protected.
One way to protect yourself from such issues is to freeze your credit. To find out if this move is right for you, let’s look at when you should set up a credit freeze, how it can affect you, what it costs, and more.
What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze is a move that essentially locks down your credit report and makes it inaccessible to anyone but you.
Before a new credit account can be opened, a creditor, bank , or credit card company will need your permission to do so. And since your credit report won’t be viewable, they won’t issue that credit, which helps if your data is in the hands of a scammer.
How much does a credit freeze cost?
Before 2018, a credit freeze could cost you anywhere from $5 to $15. There would also be an additional charge each time you wanted to unfreeze it.
Now, however, you can freeze and unfreeze your credit at no cost.
How do you freeze your credit?
Freezing your credit takes a bit of work since you’ll be dealing with three credit bureaus. Each has its own process for freezing credit, and you’ll have to contact them to initiate the process.
While you could mail the credit bureaus to set up a freeze, it’s a slower option than calling or doing it online.
Here is the contact info you’ll need to kickstart the process:
- Equifax – Go here or call 800-685-1111.
- Experian – Go here or call 888-397-3742.
- TransUnion – Go here or call 888-909-8872.
How long does it take for a credit freeze to start?
Make the request by mail, which is not recommended due to speed, and you’ll have to wait three business days.
Do it online or via phone, however, and you can expect your freeze to activate within one business day.
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When should you freeze your credit?
You’ll obviously need to freeze it once you realize you’ve been a victim of identity theft. You can also freeze it to protect your child’s credit.
If you’ve been a victim of a data breach or think you’ve had your identity stolen, you should freeze your credit as well. But to truly play it safe, the best time to request a credit freeze is right now.
Sure, you’ll have to do some extra work during the setup and when you want to unfreeze it, but that added peace of mind is well worth it.
How do you unfreeze your credit?
You’ll need to lift the freeze when you want to open a new credit product. You can either do this temporarily to have it activated once you’re done, or have it stay unfrozen for convenience.
Visit each credit bureau’s website to unfreeze your credit. The process should be completed within an hour since federal law requires it.
The Pros and Cons of Freezing Credit
The pros of freezing your credit are that it:
- Is free.
- Won’t affect your credit score.
- Can keep scammers from opening new accounts in your name.
The cons are that credit freezes:
- Require extra work to set up with the different credit bureaus.
- Will need to be lifted when you want to apply for new credit.
- Do not protect accounts that you currently have.
With that being said, it’s now up to you to initiate a credit freeze or not depending on your situation.