Credit Freezes Are Now Free
Under a new federal law passed on September 21, 2018, you can now freeze and unfreeze your credit files at no cost at each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This new law additionally requires the credit agencies to allow extended fraud alerts up to one year (vs. the current 90 days). Those alerts had already been free.
I tried implementing a credit freeze at each of the three agencies and it’s quite easy to do. If you prefer, you can also do it by phone. Here’s the contact information:
What’s the difference between a freeze and a fraud alert? Credit freezes restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. But it also prevents your ability to open new credit accounts or to get a home mortgage, for example. Now you can temporarily or permanently remove the freeze, as many times as you want, all at no charge. A fraud alert does not prevent businesses from checking your credit. Instead it alerts them to confirm your identity (typically by checking with you) before opening a new account. Fraud alerts remain free and identity theft victims can get an extended fraud alert for seven years.
So what’s the catch? There really isn’t one. There are, however, some things to be aware of:
- There are exceptions to the freeze. Government agencies, insurance underwriters, companies with whom you currently do business, and companies using the information for employment, tenancy, collections, or identity verification are still allowed access to your credit files. Most egregious is the fact that companies selling you insurance or credit offers can also access your files despite the freeze.
- The new law applies only to the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. It does not include other companies such as Innovis that collect personal credit data for other purposes.
- A credit freeze is not the same as a credit lock, for which there may still be a charge from some of the credit agencies. One of the benefits previously touted for the lock is the speed at which it can be turned on and off. Agencies must now implement credit freezes within one business day and remove them within one hour, potentially obsoleting the need for a lock.
- A freeze has no impact on your credit score. And although you cannot get your credit score for free, you can (and should) still view your credit report even if a freeze is in place. You can go to annualcreditreport.com to get one free credit report annually from each of the three agencies.
- Each person has his/her own individual credit file. Both you and your spouse (if married) need to implement your own credit freezes. (You can even do it for a child as their guardian).
Now that it has become so easy (not to mention free) to implement a credit freeze, I would recommend everyone take advantage of it.