If you are worried about the recent Equifax breach or just want to protect your credit in general, you have a few tools at your disposal to keep your credit safe from bad guys and hackers around the world. One of the most effective tools is a credit report lock. Let’s take a look at when you may want to lock your credit, how it works, and what it costs.
What is a credit report lock?
Locking your credit report is one of the strongest actions you can take against identity theft. However, a credit report lock is not free and can cause some inconveniences for you, so it should typically not be your Plan A unless you believe you are or are about to become a victim of identity theft.
When you lock your credit report , no one can open any new credit accounts. That includes both you and identity thieves who want to use your information to open an account. When your credit is locked, the only way to open a new account is to remove the lock or with a temporarily unlock. More on that in a minute.
Adding a lock, sometimes called a security freeze, on your credit reports, can be done at all three credit reporting bureaus. It does not impact your credit score. Most everyone is locked out of doing anything new with your credit, but existing lenders and some government agencies may still have access to your credit report.
How can you lock your credit?
Experian’s Credit Freeze Center Offers Several Options to Control Your Credit File
Locking your credit is easy. You can lock your credit online or by calling Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting companies, to have the lock added to your account. Keep in mind that while it was Equifax that caused the recent security breach that leaked 143 million Americans’ credit, that data can be used for identity theft at any bank, credit union, or other lender.
If you do decide to freeze your credit, you should do so at all three of the major reporting bureaus. Here are the most recent links and phone numbers to lock your credit online or by phone:
- Equifax — 1-800-349-9960
- Experian — 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion — 1-888-909-8872
When you lock your credit, the freeze may last indefinitely or for seven years depending on where you live. If you call to lock your credit, you can ask the phone agent how long the lock will last. CreditCards.com offers a full list for every state here.
How to temporarily unlock your credit
If you do decide to lock your credit, you won’t be able to open up any new loans or credit cards unless you unlock your credit, which you can do temporarily. As a matter of fact, my own wife has her credit locked due to a past identity theft and still calls TransUnion each time she applies for new credit to temporarily unfreeze her credit.
When you unlock your credit, you typically have 24 or 48 hours to conduct any authorized business before the lock automatically returns. Each time you unlock, you do have to pay a fee, so keep this in mind when timing your unlocks if you are applying for any new credit or loans.
Each credit bureau treats unlocks a little differently. For example, at Equifax you can unlock your credit for a period of time ranging from 1 day to 1 year, or you can unlock for a specific creditor.
Once you request the temporary lifting of the freeze, you should wait about 15 minutes to let temporary window go into effect. You may need to set a personal ID number (PIN), which you would share with the lender to process a new application.
This is quite a bit of work and there is a financial cost, so think hard about whether you really need to lock your credit before you put a freeze into place.
Costs of locking your credit
The cost to lock your credit varies by state. Plan on a fee of around $5 to $10 for each credit bureau to lock your credit. The highest cost in any state is $10 to freeze your credit report.
Temporarily or permanently lifting a freeze also has a cost. Expect to pay the same cost, up to about $10, any time you want to open up your credit.
Should you lock your credit file?
Locking and unlocking your credit takes time and money, so you should not rush to lick your credit file unless you are a victim of identity theft or believe you are about to become a victim. If you are just worried about fraud, locking your credit may be a bit extreme for your needs. In that situation, a fraud alert may be plenty to meet your needs.
If you have typical credit usage, you won’t have to unlock your credit that often. I’m a big travel hacker with lots of credit cards, so for me this could easily cost more than $50 per year. Everyone has unique financial needs and circumstances, so there is no right or wrong answer here. The key is to understand your finances and make the best choice for your needs.
In the wake of the Equifax breach, however, more people are making the move to lock down their credit. With our names, addresses, phone numbers, and Social Security numbers available to the highest bidder, it is not a bad idea to lock your credit just to be safe.
The only real solution to the problem would be for the United States government to reissue every Single Social security number or for the credit bureaus to add some type of PIN for every credit application. But barring that, we are left to protect and fend for ourselves. This is why credit locking is more popular and important than ever before.
The results of an Equifax security check indicating that information was leaked
In the wake of the disaster, Equifax is offering its TrustedID Premier service for free for a year. But given how they treated my information in the past, I have no interest in signing up for anything provided by Equifax.
Personally, I’m signed up for credit monitoring alerts and check on my credit regularly, and I’m going to stick with what I have in place. But if you are seriously concerned, for $30 or less you can lock your entire credit profile at all three bureaus. That is the safest way to protect your credit and identity from the bad guys today.
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