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How to Freeze Your Credit
Data breaches are occurring at a historic rate, and with Equifax's recent disclosure that nearly 143 million Americans' information was exposed to hackers, there has never been a better time to consider freezing your credit. Credit freezes are one of the most effective ways for consumers to protect themselves against identity theft.
What exactly is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily “thaw” your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed. The added layer of security means that thieves can’t establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information. Freezing your credit files has no impact whatsoever on your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. You can continue to use them as you regularly would even when your credit is frozen.
Freezes have been available for free to victims of identity theft for some years, but recently all three of the major credit bureaus adopted new rules that now allow non-victims to have access to credit freezes as well for a small fee. The cost ranges from about $3 to $10 per person per bureau to freeze a credit report; a couple of states have higher fees.
The cost to “thaw” your reports for one creditor — or for a specific period of time — ranges from free to $10.
When shouldn't you freeze your credit?
If your credit reports are accessed often for work or because you create new accounts with various financial institutions on a regular basis, it is not recommended that you freeze your accounts. The costs to regularly “thaw” your reports would tend to be excessive.
You also shouldn't freeze your credit if you have recently applied for credit, or will be applying in the next several days. Some credit files take a few days to unfreeze. Once you have been approved for credit, you should freeze (or re-freeze) your credit immediately.
How do I freeze my credit?
When you do a credit freeze, it is imperative that you freeze your credit with all of the credit bureaus.
For Equifax, the request must be done online at https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze
For Experian, you may call 1-888-397-3742, option 2, or online at https://www.experian.com/ncaconline/freeze
For TransUnion, you may call 1-888-909-8872, or online at https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/indexProcess
For Innovis, you may call 1-800-540-2505, or online at https://www.innovis.com/securityFreeze/index
How do I un-freeze my credit?
Each credit reporting agency will have a different process for temporarily or permanently removing the freeze. Pay close attention to the process for doing this as you sign up for the freeze. Be aware, sometimes it can take several days to remove a freeze. You will need to do this before applying for credit. Also, it is not necessary to un-freeze your file with all three agencies. Instead, ask the creditor which credit reporting agency they use, and only un-freeze that particular file.
What else can I do to protect myself?
Unfortunately, a credit freeze won't help with all breach threats. For more information, click HERE.
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