As people look for ways to protect against fraud, one solution that's been talked about is a credit freeze. But is a credit freeze really the best way to protect your credit? Here's why credit lock may be better for you.
What's a Credit Freeze?
When you apply for credit - a new credit card, mortgage, or other type of loan/debt, such as financing your cell phone - the lender usually runs a credit check. Essentially, they're requesting your credit report from one or more of the credit bureaus that produce the reports. A credit freeze prevents this exchange from happening. The requesting lender will be denied access to the report.
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Each of the three national credit bureaus - TransUnion, Equifax and Experian - produces its own, separate reports. So, if you want to freeze all three of your reports, you'll need to contact each bureau to do so. Depending on your state's laws, you may need to pay a fee every time you freeze.
You should also know that each state has different rules about how freezes are applied and how they operate once in place. For example, all states' freezes stop credit applications and some also stop applications for other types of services, like insurance or utilities.
Why Might Someone Want to Freeze Their Credit?
When your credit report is frozen, lenders can't access it during a credit check. Since lenders usually want to know how good your credit is before agreeing to lend you money, they typically won't approve an application without having run a credit check.
So, if your credit is frozen and you're the one applying for credit, it'll be an inconvenience. But if your credit is frozen and a thief is applying for credit in your name, it can stop the thief in its tracks. Credit freezes can be a powerful way to protect your credit…but if you're planning to apply for credit in any way (financing a new phone, opening a store card at the register to take advantage of a promotional discount, shopping for a car or mortgage) you will have to plan ahead if your credit is frozen.
Luckily, a freeze is not the only way to restrict access to your credit report. You do have other options.
What Is Credit Lock?
Each of the three major credit bureaus also offers the ability to lock the credit report it produces. Similar to freezing your report, locking it means lenders requesting it won't be able to gain access to it.
So, What's the Difference?
The big difference between a credit freeze and credit lock is in how they operate.
With a credit freeze, you have to go through a series of steps - online, by mail or on the phone - to freeze your credit report. You have to go through the same steps to lift the freeze so you can apply for credit. You will also have to decide whether you want a global lift or a selective lift. A global lift applies to all requests by creditors during the lift time frame you specify. For example, if you plan to go car shopping you can lift the freeze for the upcoming weekend. On the other hand, a selective lift allows you to request an access code to give to a specific creditor to let them obtain your credit report. With both types of lifts, you will have to remember and provide the PIN you were issued when you placed your freeze in order to request a lift from that bureau. Finally, and as mentioned above, credit freezes are governed by state law and, there may be fees and waiting periods involved with these steps.
TransUnion's credit lock, on the other hand, is activated and deactivated, online or on your smartphone, with a click, tap or swipe. You are in control. Locking and unlocking takes just seconds - it's as easy as flipping a switch. So, if your credit is locked and you decide to apply for credit, simply unlock your report on the spot, apply, then lock it again right afterward, if you want.
TransUnion's credit lock is part of a completely free product, TrueIdentity - that also provides access to your TransUnion credit report and monitoring alerts.
The Bottom Line
Credit freezes and credit locks are both good options to prevent thieves from using your credit reports to open accounts in your name. The choice that's right for you may come down to lifestyle. Do you plan ahead or do you want the flexibility to make decisions more spontaneously?