Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.
What’s The Difference Between a Credit Lock and Freeze?
Depending on which source you read, Americans were defrauded out of anywhere from $5.9 to $52 billion, last year alone. Yet, despite these massive losses, few people do enough to proactively protect their finances and online accounts from fraudsters, thieves, and con artists.
A credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) and a credit lock are two ways to help prevent criminals from using your stolen information for financial gain.
Both credit locks and freezes make it harder for scammers to open new accounts or take out loans in your name. But there are a few key differences that can help you decide which one is right for you.
In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of a credit lock vs. freeze, the pros and cons of each, and how to choose the right one to protect your finances from fraudsters.
Credit Lock vs. Freeze: What You Need To Know
Many people use the terms credit lock, credit freeze, security freeze, and fraud alert interchangeably. However, each one has a few unique differences that will influence whether or not it’s the right choice for you and your situation.
Both a credit lock and credit freeze effectively hide your credit history from lenders and creditors. If identity thieves try to open a new account or take out a loan in your name, a lock or freeze blocks their attempts because the lender won’t be able to pull your credit history.
Here are the ways that a credit lock and credit freeze differ:
- Credit lock: Prevents creditors and lenders from accessing your credit history.
- Credit freeze: “Freezes” your credit history so that potential lenders can’t access it.
How to request one:
- Credit lock: Instantly lock and unlock your credit file using a mobile app or online service.
- Credit freeze: You have to request a credit freeze with each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax).
Who should use it?
- Credit lock: People who suspect or know they’ve been the victim of identity theft.
- Credit freeze: People who suspect or know they’ve been the victim of identity theft.
- Credit lock: Convenient and quick.
- Credit freeze: Cost-effective.
- Credit lock: Can be expensive if you pay for a credit lock service from the credit bureaus.
- Credit freeze: Can take anywhere from a few hours to a few business days to lock or unlock your credit.
- Credit lock: Included in identity theft protection tools like Identity Guard — or as a paid service with a monthly fee from the credit bureaus.
- Credit freeze: Free.
Note: Neither a credit lock or freeze can stop scammers from accessing your current accounts. If fraudsters have access to your credit, bank account, or other financial information, you should consider fraud protection services such as credit monitoring.
When Should I Consider Freezing or Locking My Credit?
Credit locks and freezes are best used if you think or know that your identity has been stolen.
A few of the main warning signs of identity theft include:
- Finding unfamiliar charges on your bank or credit card statements.
- Learning that your personal information was leaked in a data breach.
- Seeing unrecognized hard inquiries or accounts in your credit file.
- Getting calls from debt collectors about debts that you don’t recognize (or being denied for loans).
- A sudden change in your credit score (a credit monitoring service like Identity Guard will catch these changes early and alert you to any potential fraud).
- Someone stole your tax return or used your identity to get government benefits.
- You’re locked out of online accounts (i.e., your passwords stop working).
Note: You’re entitled to a free credit report each year from all three credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s a good idea to scan these for any unrecognized accounts or hard credit inquiries as well as incorrect information (such as your address or phone number).
What Is a Credit Freeze (i.e. a “Security Freeze”)?
A security or credit freeze is a way to prevent the credit reporting bureaus from sharing your credit report to new lenders without your explicit consent.
When you apply for a loan or line of credit, the lender checks with the credit reporting agencies to see if you qualify. But when your credit file is “frozen,” it can’t be accessed by anyone — even you. This means that scammers won’t be able to open new accounts in your name.
With a credit freeze in place, even credit card companies wouldn’t be able to issue you a new credit card.
A security freeze lasts indefinitely, or until you "thaw" your account.
💡 Related: Should I Freeze My Credit? →
How Do I Request a Credit Freeze?
To place a credit freeze, you need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus separately — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Credit locks are free, but can take anywhere from a few hours to several business days to be put in place.
You can typically request a credit freeze online, by phone, or by mail. To make your request, you’ll need to include personal information, including your:
- Date of birth
- Address history
- Social Security number (SSN)
Once your request is processed, the credit bureaus will provide you with a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that you’ll need to freeze and unfreeze your credit file.
How to request an Experian credit freeze
Online: Sign up online to freeze and unfreeze your credit.
By phone: 1-888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)
By mail: Send your request to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
How to request an Equifax credit freeze
Online: Sign up online to freeze and unfreeze your Equifax credit report.
By phone: 1-888 298-0045
By mail: Send your request to P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374
How to request a TransUnion credit freeze
Online: Sign up online to freeze and unfreeze your TransUnion credit report.
By phone: 1-888-909-8872
By mail: Send your request to P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016
How Do I “Thaw” My Credit Account?
To unfreeze your credit, you’ll need to contact each credit bureau separately and provide the PIN you were given when you froze your account. By federal law, credit bureaus need to lift the freeze within one business day if you call or submit your request online.
For example, if you’re shopping for a new car or know that you need to request a new credit account, you would have to:
- Call each credit bureau and provide your PIN to unfreeze your credit files.
- Apply for the loan and wait until you’re approved. Your credit file is vulnerable as long as this takes.
- Contact each credit bureau again to refreeze your credit.
Does a Security Freeze Affect My Credit Score?
No. A security freeze has no impact on your credit score.
Are There Any Downside to a Credit Freeze?
For the most part, a credit freeze is a good tool to protect yourself from credit fraud. However, there are a few downsides to freezing your credit, such as:
- Scammers can still access your current credit accounts.
- A credit freeze won’t protect you from other forms of identity theft or fraud — medical and healthcare fraud, account takeovers, criminal identity theft, etc.
- You’ll need to unfreeze your credit file for any legitimate loan (mortgage, auto, credit card, etc.) as well as when applying for some jobs.
- Unfreezing your credit takes time, meaning it can be annoying if you’re regularly applying for new credit.
- A credit freeze doesn’t stop everyone from seeing your credit report. It can still be released to existing creditors or to debt collectors acting on their behalf. In some situations, government agencies will also still have access to your report.
What is a Credit Lock? How Is It Different From a Credit Freeze?
A credit lock is similar to a credit freeze in that it prevents lenders from accessing your credit file. Credit locks aren’t governed by law. Instead, they’re contracts between you and the credit reporting bureaus.
Here’s how a credit lock is different from a credit freeze:
- A credit lock is faster than a credit freeze: Locks happen almost instantaneously using apps or online tools.
- A credit lock is more convenient to enable: You can lock and unlock your credit file yourself without having to contact the credit bureau and wait for a freeze to be put in place.
Note: You can’t have both a credit lock and a credit freeze active at the same time.
How Do I Lock My Credit?
To lock your credit, you need to enroll in a special program with each of the credit bureaus. You can also lock your credit using an identity theft protection service like Identity Guard.
At the time of this writing, each credit bureau offered a different service for locking your credit file:
- Experian CreditLock is a credit monitoring app that includes three-bureau credit monitoring, monthly credit scores, identity theft insurance, and Experian credit file lock and unlock. CreditLock costs $24.99/month.
- Equifax Lock & Alert is a free mobile app that allows you to lock and unlock your Equifax credit file.
- TransUnion TrueIdentity is a free credit monitoring service that allows you to lock and unlock your TransUnion credit file. TransUnion also offers a more comprehensive protection plan for $29.95/month that includes TransUnion and Experian credit locks.
- Identity Guard is an award-winning identity theft protection provider that includes a tool to lock and unlock your Experian credit file with a single click.
With Identity Guard, you also get:
- $1 million in identity theft insurance to cover eligible losses and costs associated with identity theft.
- 24/7 U.S.-based fraud resolution specialists who are ready to answer your questions and help you deal with the fallout of fraud by phone or email.
- Award-winning identity theft protection that monitors your personal information online, in public records, and on the Dark Web.
- Three-bureau credit monitoring with near real-time fraud alerts.
- Bank account, 401k and investment accounts, and high-risk transaction monitoring to keep your personal finances and assets safe.
- Online and device safety features such as a secure password manager and safe browsing tools.
Special offer: Save 33% on your Identity Guard membership today.
I Think My Identity Was Stolen! What Should I Do Next?
If you think your identity was stolen, you need to act quickly. Along with a credit freeze or credit lock, you should also take the following steps to secure your identity:
- File an official identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
- If you have information that could lead to an arrest, or if your identity was used during a crime, you should contact your local police department.
- Request a free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com and look for errors or new accounts that you don’t recognize.
- Reach out to the fraud department at your bank, credit card issuer, and any other impacted company.
- Update your passwords with ones that are complex and unique (at least 12 characters long) and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible.
- Dispute any fraudulent charges or new accounts to fix your credit after identity theft.
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service to keep track of your credit and other financial accounts and select a service that will alert you about any signs of fraud.
Credit Lock vs. Freeze: The Final Decision
Whether you choose a credit lock or freeze, you’ll be helping to protect your credit file against scammers attempting to open new accounts in your name. But these tools alone aren’t enough to keep you safe from the dangers of identity theft.
Instead, consider signing up for Identity Guard’s comprehensive identity theft protection service.
Identity Guard protects your finances, personal information, and devices from scammers and hackers. And if the worst should happen, you’re covered by a $1 million insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.