I was reluctant to freeze my credit. Doing so would prevent hackers and identity thieves from opening up any new credit using my name and social security number.
It's true that this kind of identity theft is rare, and makes up only 4% of the ID theft cases out there, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
But after acknowledging that I had no immediate need for new credit, I decided to have the peace of mind that comes from blocking any new credit attempts at all.
What is a credit freeze, anyway?
A credit freeze locks access to a borrower's credit report. Any attempts to apply for new credit cards or loans will be unsuccessful, because you’ve prevented creditors from extending new credit in your name.
Should I freeze my credit?
Maybe. A credit freeze isn’t for everyone.
Consider your timing. If you aren’t in need of a new credit card or loan in the immediate future, then freezing your credit can help avoid surprises when it comes to your SSN being used for new credit applications.
Will freezing my credit impact my credit score?
No. Freezing your credit files has no impact on your credit score, and you can still check your reports via free annual reports and credit monitoring services.
What happens when I want to apply for new credit?
You can temporarily “thaw” your credit for certain creditors or periods of time. Afterward, you can re-freeze your credit.
How much does freezing my credit cost?
In some cases, a credit freeze will cost $5 to $20 per credit line, per bureau. Fees depend entirely on your state of residence. (For example, New Yorkers get a first freeze for some bureaus free of charge). If you thaw and re-freeze your credit, then you'll also have to pay the credit freeze fee.
Ready to freeze your credit? Here’s how, in less than 15 minutes
Visit each of the three credit bureaus at their web addresses located at this page:
Follow each page’s instructions. You’ll be asked to fill in the information necessary to place your credit holds.
At the final screen, you’ll be issued PINs for each credit bureau. Here's what it looks like when you finish freezing your credit with Equifax.
Keep these PINs in a safe place. You’ll need them when you thaw or remove the freeze.
I recommend putting them in a safe online password management tool such as 1Password, LastPass, or Dashlane.
What else can I do?
Double-up with a credit monitoring service.
It’s also now more important than ever to monitor your credit card and account statements to catch unfamiliar purchase transactions. Identity theft is most prevalent when it comes to hackers duplicating your credit and debit card account numbers for fraudulent purchases.
The Equifax hack opened opportunities for synthetic fraud, where hackers create realistic-looking accounts using a combination of two to three identities. They use these new IDs and stolen card numbers to pay for everything from online goods to medical services rendered.
You can protect yourself by using tools, apps, and services that offer spending alerts or quick spending summaries of your daily, weekly, and monthly purchases. These same tools may also offer credit score and inquiry alerts, too.
Consider Clarity Money, Credit Karma, or Credit Sesame; these tools can regularly check your credit score and alert you of any significant changes.