In our increasingly mobile and connected world, it seems to be frequent that we learn of new security breaches. Well-known companies (or even credit bureaus) are hacked and sensitive information of consumers is stolen (sometimes, data is hacked and stolen for months before the company even realizes the issue). Because of the frequency of hacks and stolen data, a good, protective method is to freeze your and your family’s credit (and it’s now FREE to freeze!).
What does “freezing credit” mean?
Freezing credit prevents prospective creditors and lenders from accessing your credit report. Typically, creditors will not offer a line of credit (give a loan) to a requester if the creditor is unable to access your credit report; this helps to prevent others from opening a line of credit in your name. If your information gets stolen, freezing your credit will help protect you.
Where and how do creditors obtain your credit report?
There are three federal credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. A creditor or lender will request a credit report from one, two, or all three of the bureaus. The credit reports contain information like credit account history (loans, open credit cards, etc) and credit inquiries. This information is what drives your FICO score (aka credit score). Credit scores give creditors and lenders an idea of your “creditworthiness” and your score will essentially tell them if you’re a risk to lend money to or open a line of credit.
Believe it or not, it’s not free for creditors and lenders to report into the credit bureaus when they lend you money or open a line of credit. So, due to that, it’s not uncommon for a loan to appear on one credit bureau’s report and not the others.
How do I freeze my credit?
First, it’s important to note that you need to freeze your credit on each individual credit bureau’s website. Freezing your credit on one does not freeze your credit on all.
All three websites offer step by step instructions in freezing your account:
How do I freeze my child’s credit?
Freezing your child’s credit takes a bit more work and there is quite a bit of documentation that needs to be submitted but this process is well worth your time. Again, each website has the instructions well laid out:
Important things to note:
- If you are in a position of needing to take out a loan, you will need to “thaw” your credit freeze. This ensures the creditor or lender is able to run a credit report. Each website offers step by step instructions on how to thaw your credit and the bureaus will offer an automatic “refreeze” of your account (you choose the date for credit to refreeze). This is useful if you have an idea of how long your credit needs to be thawed for the creditor to pull the report and you won’t have to take the time to refreeze your account yourself.
- When credit is frozen, the bureau will give you a PIN. Note this PIN and keep in a safe location. Having your PIN handy when you need to thaw your credit will make the process easier. If the PIN is lost, thawing your credit will not be as easy due to the bureau having to confirm your identity.
Taking advantage of these processes will save you and your loved ones heartache in the future, should your data get stolen. As I have been told by experts in the field, it’s not a matter of IF your information will get stolen, it’s a matter of WHEN.