Credit Card Basics

Can You Pause Your Credit Card?

There are times when you need an off switch for your credit card. It may be that you've misplaced your card and are worried about fraud, or that you've decided that you're spending too much.

If you want to temporarily stop the use of your credit card without reporting it as lost or stolen, you now may be able to do so by simply going to the issuer's website or app. Many credit card issuers now allow you to freeze and unfreeze your card to prevent purchases on your account.

When you pause your credit card this way, the card issuer won't authorize any new charges to your account, but any recurring payments that you've already set up will continue to be processed. There is no penalty for freezing your account, and you can unfreeze it anytime you want. However, interest charges will continue to accrue and you'll still have to make monthly payments (if you have a balance) just as you always do.

Alternatives to Pausing Your Credit Card

It's not uncommon for credit card users to lose track of their cards, only to have them turn up within a few days. But during that time, you may not be sure if the card has been stolen, and you certainly don't want to deal with any unauthorized charges. For example, perhaps you've accidentally left your card at a store or a restaurant. While you find the time to retrieve the card, you can freeze the account to prevent any new charges from being authorized.

If your goal is to prevent yourself from making additional purchases on a card, however, then are other ways you can avoid using your card. For example, you can simply leave your card at home and use a different form of payment instead, such as cash, a check or your debit card.

If you don't trust yourself not to use your credit card, you could ask someone you trust to hold it for a while. You might think cutting up your credit card is a good solution, but this is wasteful, as you'll just have to reorder the card if you change your mind. Furthermore, many credit cards are now made of metal and cannot be cut with scissors like plastic cards. Instead, some cardholders literally freeze their cards in a block of ice in their freezer. This way the card won't be damaged, but it can take hours to thaw it out if you want to use it—making you think hard about whether you really want to use it.

Keep in mind that none of these homegrown techniques for pausing your credit card will prevent fraud if your credit card's account information has been stolen. Stolen credit card numbers can still be used to make purchases online and over the phone without the physical card. If your credit card's account information has been compromised, then you should report your card lost and have it replaced.

What About Freezing My Credit?

Freezing your credit is an option that sounds similar to pausing your credit cards, but it's very different. Unlike pausing your credit cards, freezing credit reports, 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 to prevent any new accounts from being opened in their name.

When your credit reports are frozen, your personal data can't be used for the purpose of applying for or opening a new credit account. However, you can temporarily "thaw" your credit reports so that you can apply for a new account when you need to.

Keep in mind, 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 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.

Protect Yourself

There are several ways to pause your credit cards when you want to make sure that they're not used. If you've temporarily misplaced your card or are concerned about fraud, then the best option may be to contact your card issuer to request that it be paused or locked. But if you just want to impose measures to restrain your own use of the card and think you can resist the temptation to use it, you can always take measures yourself. Whichever method you choose, remember that you'll still be responsible for paying your bill.

If you're concerned that your account and your identity have been compromised, then you should consider a security freeze. By understanding what pausing your credit cards and freezing your credit reports do, you can choose the right step for your needs.