What to Know
- Credit Freezes Now Free
- Must Request Freeze With Each Credit Bureau
- PIN Is Generated To 'Thaw'
U.S. consumers no longer must pay the big credit bureaus to stop ID theft.
A new federal law that took effect Sept. 21, 2018 requires free credit "freezes."
A credit freeze can be useful in preventing identity theft. Fundamentally, a freeze prohibits the opening of new loans or credit accounts in your name – which is how ID thieves thrive.
The process of beginning a freeze generates a PIN. That PIN may later be used to thaw (or unfreeze) your credit file at an appropriate time, such as when you are ready to buy a home or car. The freeze may be lifted temporarily or permanently, but only using the PIN.
“It takes about 30 hours to unwind identity theft. So, you don’t want to deal with that,” said Ted Rossman, a finance industry analyst who writes for CreditCards.com. “You want to lock your credit down ahead of time. It’s really smart to put a freeze in place before problems occur.”
Rossman said it is vital that if you freeze your credit, you put your PIN in a safe place where you can retrieve it.
“It’s easy to freeze, and easy to unfreeze... it’s a lot harder without [the PIN],” he said.
To request a credit freeze, you must do so three times, once with with each of the three large credit bureaus. We have provided links below.
- Equifax: https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/
- Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- TransUnion: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze
In addition to freezing your credit, it is essential to review the details of your credit file at least one per year. Federal law grants free annual access to your credit report.
You must access you free report via this web address: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action
Some other websites might claim to offer free access to you file. However, the web address above in the only federally-sanctioned portal for free annual access to your credit file.
It is important to note that you do not get free access to your credit score. TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian routinely offer to show you’re your score for a fee – even inside the free access portal.
But do you need to see it?
Many finance writers have said reviewing the the underlying details in your file for accuracy is likely more important than seeing your score. If your credit history is accurate, your credit score should be accurate as well; but errors, even minor ones, might negatively impact on your score.
Any discrepancy in your credit file should be addressed immediately with the creditor that reported it to the credit bureaus. Ideally, you will do that process in writing. The Federal Trade Commission provides guidance for disputing errors on credit reports at this address: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0151-disputing-errors-credit-reports.