The difference between a credit freeze and a credit lock

Both a credit freeze and a credit lock can help safeguard your credit against potential fraudsters. But what’s the difference between a freeze and a lock? And how exactly do they work?

Read on to learn about how credit freezes compare to credit locks and how both freezes and locks can help prevent identity theft and fraud.

Key takeaways

  • Credit freezes and credit locks both restrict access to your credit reports and can help safeguard your credit from scammers.

  • Credit freezes are backed by federal law and are free.

  • Credit locks aren’t backed by federal law and may not be free—they’re sometimes offered as part of a premium service.

  • Credit can be frozen or locked with each of the three major credit bureaus.

  • Freezes are managed by submitting requests to the credit bureaus. But you can manage credit locks directly to lock or unlock your credit instantly.

Monitor your credit for free

Join the millions using CreditWise from Capital One.

Sign up today

What is a credit freeze?

Sometimes called a security freeze, a credit freeze restricts access to your credit reports and helps prevent identity theft and credit card fraud.

How does a credit freeze work?

Freezing your credit restricts access to your credit reports, preventing lenders from seeing the information in your reports. And since lenders typically initiate a credit check when reviewing credit applications, freezing your credit makes it harder for scammers to open new lines of credit in your name—a lender is unlikely to approve an application if it can’t access the applicant’s credit reports.

Federal law requires that each of the three major credit bureausEquifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®—offer credit freezes for free. And the bureaus are required to unfreeze credit for free too.

How to freeze your credit

Here’s how to freeze your credit with each of the three major credit bureaus:

How to unfreeze your credit

A credit freeze will remain in place until you request for it to be lifted—known as a “thaw.” If the request is made online or by phone, the freeze must be lifted within an hour. And when you thaw your credit, you’ll need to decide whether you’d like to thaw your credit temporarily or permanently.

What is a credit lock?

A credit lock is similar to a credit freeze and allows you to restrict access to your credit reports in order to help prevent identity theft and fraud.

How does a credit lock work?

Similar to a credit freeze, a credit lock restricts access to your credit reports and prevents lenders from seeing the information in your reports.

Credit locks may be helpful. But unlike credit freezes, credit locks aren’t guaranteed by federal law. And they also may not be free.

A credit lock might be offered as a premium service. And that premium service often comes at a price. Equifax, for example, offers credit locks for free. But both Experian and TransUnion bundle their credit locks with other services—like credit report alerts—for a monthly fee.

How to lock your credit

Here’s how to lock your credit with each of the three major credit bureaus:

  • Equifax: You can lock your Equifax credit report through the bureau’s free Lock & Alert service.

  • Experian: You can lock your Experian credit report with Experian’s CreditLock as a part of the bureau’s monthly CreditWorks Premium membership.

  • TransUnion: You can lock your TransUnion credit report with the bureau’s monthly Credit Monitoring service.

How to unlock your credit

Unlike a credit freeze, you can manage a credit lock directly. That means you can lock and unlock your credit instantly through each bureau’s respective website and app—you don’t have to submit a request and then wait for your credit to be locked or unlocked.

When to use a credit freeze vs. a credit lock

Both freezing your credit and locking your credit make it harder for scammers to open new lines of credit in your name. But when exactly should you use a credit freeze vs. a credit lock?

Choosing between a credit freeze and a credit lock ultimately comes down to a variety of factors. If you apply for credit fairly often, for example, a credit lock might be more convenient since it allows you to instantly lock and unlock your credit whenever you choose—there’s no waiting around for a request to be approved. On the other hand, credit locks aren’t backed by federal law—but credit freezes are. Credit locks also may not be free—but credit freezes are always free.

Whichever option you might choose, it’s important to know that neither freezing nor locking your credit impacts your credit scores. And you can still build credit with a freeze or a lock in place. Freezes and locks don’t affect your ability to use your current credit cards or other types of credit. But if you want to open new lines of credit, you’ll need to thaw or unlock your credit.

Credit freeze vs. credit lock in a nutshell

Both credit freezes and credit locks restrict access to your credit reports and help prevent identity theft and fraud. Credit freezes are backed by federal law and offered by each of the three major credit bureaus for free. Credit locks, on the other hand, may be more convenient and allow consumers to lock and unlock their credit instantly. But credit locks aren’t guaranteed by law and may not be free.

Regularly monitoring your credit is another way to help you stay one step ahead of fraudsters. And CreditWise from Capital One can help. With CreditWise, you can monitor your VantageScore® 3.0 credit score and TransUnion credit report. And CreditWise alerts you when something changes on your credit report, which can help you quickly spot potential fraud. It even offers free dark web monitoring.

CreditWise is free for everyone—not just Capital One account holders.

Related Content