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Freezing a credit card lets you pause most new transactions if you've misplaced your card or you'd like to take a break from spending. A credit freeze, also known as a lock, is a convenient way to prevent your credit card from being used without the need to report it as lost or stolen. In most cases, you can freeze a card directly on a credit card company's website or app.
There is no penalty or charge for freezing your account, and you can unfreeze it anytime you want. Interest charges will continue to accrue on the unpaid balance, however, and you'll still have to make monthly payments toward the balance as usual.
Here's what to know about freezing a credit card to help you decide if it's the right move for you.
What Happens When You Freeze a Credit Card?
When you choose to freeze a credit card, the card issuer won't authorize any new charges or balance transfers to your account. That means you can't use it to make purchases online or in person, and you can't transfer a balance from another card to the one you froze.
But, conveniently, any recurring payments that you've already set up will continue to be processed. For example, if you've set up bill pay using the card, those payments will continue to go through, as will any returns or credits you authorized before the freeze.
When Should You Freeze a Credit Card?
A credit card freeze is ideal if you've temporarily misplaced the card, but you're relatively sure of where it is and you'd like to prevent unauthorized transactions in the meantime. For example, if you've accidentally left your card at a store or a restaurant, you can freeze the account until you're able to retrieve it.
If your card has been lost or stolen, however, report that to the card issuer right away rather than freeze it. Reporting a card as lost or stolen won't just freeze your account; you'll also receive a new credit card with a new number, making your previous card invalid. This will help prevent credit card fraud, in which a fraudster makes purchases or takes out cash advances with your card.
You may also choose to freeze a credit card to prevent yourself from using it, potentially if you're eager to pay off credit card debt. But this isn't the only way to take a pause from spending. You could simply choose to use cash or a debit card instead, or put the card away in a drawer or home safe. This way, you'll have some time to confirm that you really want to make a certain purchase.
What About Freezing My Credit?
Freezing a credit card is different from freezing your credit. Unlike freezing your credit card accounts, freezing your credit report, also called a security freeze, doesn't stop the use of your credit card to make purchases. Instead, freezing a credit report is typically a step taken by those who have been a victim of fraud or identity theft to prevent any new credit accounts from being opened in their name.
When your credit reports are frozen, lenders cannot access them to review a credit application—which prevents fraudsters from using your personal data to open a new credit account. You can temporarily unfreeze or "thaw" your credit reports, however, so that you can apply for a new account when you need to.
It's important to note that freezing your credit won't prevent your existing accounts from being used fraudulently. If you suspect that your credit card has been used without your authorization, then you should immediately contact your credit card issuer to report it as lost or stolen. The card issuer will prevent any future fraudulent charges and mail you a replacement card. You can also have any fraudulent charges reversed.
Freezing your credit is free at all three credit bureaus, including Experian. If you are the victim of fraud, make sure to set up a freeze at each bureau separately to ensure all your credit files are safe going forward.
The Convenience of Freezing a Credit Card
Since credit card freezes are free, result in no penalties and can be done easily from a credit card issuer's app or website, there is little risk in implementing one. When you don't have access to your card for a period of time, or you'd like to limit the cards available to you for spending, a credit card freeze is a worthwhile option.
But remember that if your card is truly lost or stolen, reporting it to the card issuer is still the most important step you can take to protect your account from unauthorized use.