Identity theft can be financially and emotionally draining for its victims. For some, it can take months or even years to fully recover.
According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 2016 was a record year for fraud, hitting roughly one out of 20 Americans.
That’s why it’s essential for you to understand how to protect yourself. One way is learning how to freeze your credit report to prevent some fraudulent activities.
Here’s what you need to know about freezing credit reports and what you should keep in mind before doing so.
What is a credit report freeze?
A credit freeze gives you control over who sees and uses your credit report.
When you freeze your credit report, lenders and others aren’t allowed to access it for any reason. When you apply for credit, you’ll need to take steps to lift the freeze.
4 reasons you should freeze your credit report
Requesting a credit report freeze can help protect you from identity theft, especially in the following situations.
1. Your information is susceptible to a data breach
In the digital age, it’s almost impossible to avoid having your sensitive information stored on a web server. And as hackers become more sophisticated, data breaches become more common.
As of July 2017, the Identity Theft Resource Center has logged 791 data breaches for the year, with more than 12 million people affected.
In some cases, you might not find out immediately that your information has been compromised. So, freezing credit reports can prevent anything from happening in the meantime.
2. You want more control over who sees your reports
Unless you’ve opted out, you likely receive prescreened or preapproved offers from lenders. Many of these offers include a promotion for a credit card or the promise of a low interest rate on a personal loan.
In any case, the financial institution checked your credit with a soft inquiry before sending that offer. Although the inquiry itself doesn’t hurt your credit score, you might feel like your privacy has been violated.
If you do a credit report freeze, lenders won’t have access to your report.
3. You’re heading overseas
If you’re planning to take a long trip abroad, the last thing you want to do is deal with fraud back home. And since you’re not going to be in the U.S. for a while, you likely won’t be applying for credit while you’re away.
Freezing your credit report over the phone or online is usually instantaneous, so you can make the request anytime.
4. You’ve been robbed
With data breaches and other types of fraud, it can be hard to say what the thieves have access to. But if you know for sure what a fraudster has stolen, freezing your credit reports can give you peace of mind.
For example, if your mail was stolen, it’s possible your Social Security number was listed on a document that had been mailed to you.
How to freeze your credit report
There are four ways to request a credit report freeze from a credit bureau. To complete the request, you’ll need to provide the following information:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Other personal information
After the freeze has been placed, you’ll receive a letter in the mail with a PIN or password you can use later to lift the freeze.
This is the most convenient option. You can make online requests through the three national credit bureaus’ websites:
2. By phone
You can call the bureaus and make requests through their customer service teams:
- TransUnion: 888-909-8872
- Equifax: 800-685-1111 (800-349-9960 for New York residents)
- Experian: 888‑397‑3742
3. By mail
Although it’s a significantly slower option, two of the three credit bureaus allow you to make requests via snail mail:
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
4. Through Multi-Bureau Lock
In June 2017, TransUnion and Equifax launched a tool that allows you to freeze and unfreeze your credit reports with a click of your mouse.
“Multi-Bureau Lock allows customers to lock both their TransUnion and Equifax credit reports simultaneously,” said Heather Battison, vice president of consumer communications at TransUnion.
The caveat is that you need to be a paying customer for either TransUnion’s Credit Lock or Equifax’s Lock & Alert. The former costs $19.95 per month, and the latter costs $4.95 per month. Both services also offer unlimited access to your credit reports and credit scores as well as credit monitoring.
4 things to consider before you freeze your credit report
Freezing credit reports sounds like a great way to avoid identity theft altogether, but there are a few things you should note before doing it.
1. You might be charged a fee
Even if you’re not using the Multi-Bureau Lock feature, you might be charged a fee by a credit bureau to add or lift a freeze. Generally, these fees don’t apply if you’re a victim of identity theft.
Check to see the fees for your state before requesting a freeze.
2. It won’t protect you from all fraud
“Freezing your credit prevents fraudsters from opening unauthorized lines of credit under your name, protecting your overall credit health,” said Battison.
But it doesn’t prevent identity theft on your active accounts. If you choose to freeze your credit report, make sure you still keep an eye on your current accounts.
3. You might not be able to monitor your credit
Most credit monitoring services provide you with a credit report and score by making a soft inquiry on your credit report.
If your report is frozen, though, they might not be able to access it. That will make it hard to know if there’s any fraud happening on accounts you already have open.
4. You might need to lift the freeze multiple times
Every time you apply for credit, an apartment lease, or a utility contract, the other party runs a credit check. If you freeze your credit report, though, the other party can’t do that. So, you’ll need to request temporary lifts.
Depending on where you live and your circumstances, each temporary lift might cost you between $2 and $12 — though some states don’t allow a fee. Credit bureaus also have up to three days to lift the freeze, so make sure to do it well in advance.
Consider all options before freezing credit reports
If you’re concerned about identity theft, freezing credit reports isn’t the only precaution you can take. You also can add an initial fraud alert to your credit reports, which is free and lasts for 90 days.
“In the event of a suspected breach, place a fraud alert on your credit report to alert potential creditors or lenders you may have been a victim of fraud,” said Battison.
That way, if someone applies for credit in your name, the creditor must reach out to the phone number you listed in the alert to verify your identity.
What’s more, you have to create a fraud alert with only one of the three credit bureaus. It will then contact the others on your behalf.
If a fraud alert sounds more appropriate for your situation, choose it over a credit freeze. If, however, you feel like things are bad enough, freezing your credit reports might give you more peace of mind.
According to Battison, other ways to prevent fraud include monitoring your credit report regularly, using secure websites, and using mobile payments instead of plastic at cash registers.
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1 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.50% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.89% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.49% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.27% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 17, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/17/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.48% effective April 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.49% – 7.27%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.50% – 6.65%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.49% – 7.41%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.50% – 6.65%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.49% – 7.11%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.98% – 9.72%6||Undergrad & Graduate|