How to freeze your credit for free

If you have concerns about account security and identity theft, it’s possible to freeze your credit to keep others from opening new accounts in your name. 

It’s free, but there are a few steps you have to take—and multiple companies to contact. Here’s how to freeze your credit, plus other information about credit monitoring and protecting against fraud.

Key takeaways

  • A credit freeze restricts access to your credit reports, which can prevent identity thieves from using your information to open accounts in your name.
  • You must request credit freezes separately from each major credit bureau.
  • Freezing your credit won’t harm your credit or prevent you from building credit.
  • Credit freezes will also keep potential lenders or employers from accessing your credit files. 
  • You can unfreeze your credit, temporarily or permanently, through each bureau.

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What is a credit freeze?

Credit freezes restrict access to your credit reports. They’re sometimes called security freezes. And when your account is frozen, it makes it harder for scammers to open new lines of credit in your name.

Credit freezes aren’t just for adults. In some cases, you may also be able to freeze accounts on behalf of your children or other adults you’re responsible for.

Why freeze your credit?

Lenders review your credit before issuing you a new line of credit or a loan. If your personal information were to fall into the wrong hands, having a freeze in place can make it more difficult for scammers to open accounts without your permission.

Even if you don’t have any immediate concerns, you might choose to freeze your credit as a precaution, especially if you aren’t planning to open any new accounts soon. But keep in mind that if your plans change, you’ll probably have to unfreeze your credit.

It’s also worth noting that placing a credit freeze won’t affect your ability to build credit with your existing accounts and that paying all your bills on time is still important.

How do you freeze your credit reports?

To freeze your credit reports, you’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®. 

Each bureau has its own process, but be prepared to share some personal information, such as your Social Security number (SSN) and birthdate. You’ll also have to verify yourself. That might mean providing copies of personal documents, such as a driver’s license or a bank statement.

Each bureau lets you freeze your credit online. It’s a great option because you can quickly unfreeze your account that way as well. But they also have telephone and mail options, which you might need if you’re freezing someone else’s credit.

How to freeze your credit with the three bureaus

Here are some basics about each bureau to get you started:

How to freeze credit for a child, spouse or incapacitated adult

Unfortunately, fraud and identity theft can happen to anyone. That includes children and people with disabilities.

If your child is 15 or younger, you can freeze their credit as a precaution. Once they turn 16, they can do it themselves—not that you can’t help. Similarly, if you have power of attorney, you may be able to place a security freeze on behalf of another adult. 

Freezing credit for a child

In cases where a scammer has already used your child’s information, the Federal Trade Commission says you should immediately freeze your child’s credit, among other steps. 

If you decide to freeze your child’s credit, you’ll again need to make separate requests to each bureau. Those requests have to be made through the mail. Between that and gathering paperwork, the process can take a little time. And if you have more than one child, you’ll have to submit separate requests for each.

Here’s how to get started with each bureau:

  • Equifax has a dedicated page to answer questions about freezing your child’s credit report. It also has a minor freeze request form to help you get started.
  • Experian also has a page that details the basics and a formal request form to help you get started.
  • TransUnion provides step-by-step directions about how to freeze your child’s credit report and what to include with your request.

Remember, freezing your child’s credit is just one precaution you can take. And like doing it for yourself, it won’t totally prevent identity theft.

How to freeze credit for a parent or other adult

In some cases, the process of placing a credit freeze on behalf of an adult is similar to placing a freeze for a child:

Important things to remember about credit freezes

First, freezing your credit doesn’t mean you can stop paying off debts. You’re still responsible for making at least the minimum payments on all your accounts every month. 

Second, placing a freeze won’t hurt your ability to build credit with your existing accounts, but it also won’t keep your credit scores from going down if negative information is reported to the bureaus.

Keep in mind that every time you apply for a loan, including applications for credit cards, auto financing and mortgages, you’ll need to unfreeze your account. That’s so potential lenders can review your credit. You may also have to unfreeze your credit if a credit check is required to rent an apartment or turn on utilities.

Finally, credit freezes are just one way you might protect your credit files. It might help to learn other simple ways to prevent identity theft. You can also read up on other scams and how to report them.

Credit freeze FAQ

Still have questions about freezing your credit? Here are some common questions about credit freezes:  

It’s a smart decision to freeze your credit to restrict unauthorized access to your credit report or personal information, especially if you think you might be a victim of identity theft.

Yes, you can still build credit with a credit freeze. It doesn’t affect your ability to use your current credit cards or other types of revolving credit. But if you want to open new lines of credit, including new credit cards, you’ll need to unfreeze your credit.

No, freezing your credit doesn’t affect your credit score. If you plan to open a new account, you may have to lift your credit freezes first to be able to apply.

A credit freeze will be in place until you take the necessary steps to unfreeze it.

Freezing credit in a nutshell

It’s important to take steps to secure your information to help prevent identity theft. Part of that might include freezing your credit.

You can also regularly monitor your credit. CreditWise from Capital One can help. It’s free for everyone, even if you’re not a Capital One cardholder. And it has security features like dark web monitoring to help you take action more quickly if your personal information, such as your SSN, is compromised.

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