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When freezing your credit to limit the processing of new credit applications, you must make a separate freeze request at each of the national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax).
What Is a Security Freeze?
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, is a fraud prevention tool that limits use of your credit file for processing new credit applications until you lift the freeze to "thaw" your credit.
Federal law grants you the right to freeze your credit reports and forbids credit bureaus from imposing any fee for the service. Both placing and lifting a credit freeze are free of charge.
A security freeze limits access to your credit file for purposes of processing applications for loans, credit card accounts and other forms of credit or financing. It can prevent identity thieves and other criminals from establishing new credit in your name, but it also can block legitimate credit checks, so you'll need to thaw your credit before applying to borrow money or open a new credit card account.
A security freeze does not restrict all access to your credit. The following entities will still have access to your credit file even when a freeze is in place:
- Lenders with whom you already have loans or credit card accounts
- Companies you authorize to monitor your credit for you
- Authorized legal and governmental agencies, such as child support authorities
- Landlords and property managers who use credit checks in tenant screenings
- Insurance companies that may use credit checks to help set your premiums
- Employers who conduct credit checks as part of their hiring process
How to Place a Free Security Freeze
You must contact each national credit bureau individually to freeze (or unfreeze) the credit report it maintains for you.
Each credit bureau accepts credit freeze requests online, by phone and by postal mail. By law, requests for credit freezes received by phone or online must be implemented within one business day. A request to thaw submitted online or by phone must be removed within one hour of your request. If submitted by postal mail, a request to freeze or unfreeze credit must be implemented within three business days of receipt of the request.
The quickest way to freeze or unfreeze your credit is to submit a request online.
To freeze your Experian credit report:
- Visit the Experian Security Freeze Center.
- Follow the onscreen prompts to create a free Experian account if you don't already have one, or sign in to your existing account.
- Once logged in, on the page with the heading "Security freeze," locate and click the virtual switch labeled "Unfrozen," which is found inside a box with the heading "Your file is unfrozen."
- When the "Unfrozen" switch slides to the right and its label changes to "Frozen," your Experian credit report is frozen.
- To thaw your Experian credit report, return to the security freeze page and click the "Frozen" button to return it to the "Unfrozen" position, or click the "Schedule a thaw" link to specify a range of dates when you want the report unfrozen temporarily, after which it the freeze will be reset.
To request credit freezes at the other two national credit bureaus, use the links below:
Additional Ways to Protect Your Credit From Fraud and Identity Theft
Freezing your credit can help avoid processing of unauthorized credit applications, but it requires you to lift the freezes at all three bureaus before you can apply for new credit yourself.
And while freezing your credit doesn't block access by other legally authorized entities, it can complicate matters for them too. Landlords screening for house or apartment rentals can still run credit checks when your credit files are frozen, for instance, but access may be delayed in many states.
If you anticipate needing to lift credit freezes frequently because of active credit-seeking, you may want to consider some alternatives that aren't quite as restrictive as a credit freeze, such as the ones below.
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports
A fraud alert notifies creditors that you're concerned about possible misuse of your credit, and instructs them to verify your identity before processing any loan or credit card applications submitted in your name.
Placing a fraud alert at any one of the national credit bureaus automatically applies it at all three bureaus, so requesting a fraud alert from Experian will cover all three of your credit reports. If you choose to remove a fraud alert before it expires, however, you must submit separate requests to all three national credit bureaus.
Three types of fraud alerts are available, and you may request any that apply to you:
- Temporary fraud alert: Also known as an initial fraud alert, this expires after one year. You can add one to your credit report (or remove it) anytime, for any reason, and you can renew it as many times as you like.
- Active-duty fraud alert: Designed to protect service members on assignment away from home, this expires after one year unless it's removed earlier.
- Extended fraud alert: Extended alerts last seven years and are intended for use by victims of credit fraud or identity theft. You can obtain an extended fraud alert by submitting a copy of an identity theft report you filed with law enforcement.
Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
Credit monitoring alerts you to changes in your credit report, such as the appearance of inquiries that mean someone has requested a credit check, creation of a new loan or credit account or the reporting of a late payment or an account placed in collections. These events can damage your credit score and, if they are unfamiliar to you, could be signs of identity theft or credit fraud.
For an additional layer of security, you can help prevent unauthorized credit activity with real-time alerts if someone tries to apply for credit in your name while your credit file is locked. Learn more about Experian CreditLock.
The Bottom Line
You are entitled by law to freeze your credit reports anytime, for free. To do so, you must request a security freeze at each of the national credit bureaus individually. Freezing your credit limits criminals' ability to open loans and credit card accounts in your name. It also restricts processing of your legitimate credit applications, so if you freeze your credit, remember to thaw it before you apply for a new loan or credit account.