It’s usually a good idea to “freeze” your credit, if you suspect identity theft or fraud or just want to try and prevent these bad things from happening. A freeze blocks lenders from checking your credit report, something they always do before issuing a credit card, loan or other types of credit. This makes it virtually impossible for a fraudster to use your good payment record to take out a big loan or a new credit card in your name.
And now the good news: As of September 2018, freezing your credit is free at all the credit agencies. Previously, to request a credit freeze with any of the three major credit reporting agencies, you had to pay anywhere from $3 to $10 per agency (depending on state of primary residence; $10 in WA State), therefore paying up to $30 total. Then, you were required to pay the same fees to un-freeze your credit, whenever you needed to do something that requires a credit check, such as purchasing or refinancing a home or applying for new credit card.
Here’s how to get started putting on a freeze. The links below take you to the credit freeze pages of the major credit bureaus. Remember that for a freeze to be effective, it must be in place at all three:
Please note: Freezing your credit report does not impact your credit score and it does not prevent you from getting a free credit report once a year.
One additional step you might want to consider in certain cases: freeze your report at the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange. This is the credit-reporting bureau used by phone, cable and utility companies (gas, electric, water) to check your creditworthiness when you request to open a new account.
What About Fraud Alerts?
The new law also extended short-term fraud alerts to one year, up from 90 days. Credit alerts are different from freezes. If you have a fraud alert in place, a lender seeking to approve an application must first contact you to verify the request is not from an imposter.
Additionally, you need only contact just one of the credit bureaus to put in place a fraud alert, and that one bureau is legally required to share your notice with the other two. This also is free. However, a fraud alert generally does not provide the same level of protection as a freeze in terms of blocking access to new credit in your name.