If you’re feeling intimidated by the idea of freezing your credit reports to keep identity thefts at bay, rest assured – the process isn’t as hard or stressful as you may think.
Like a lot of people who feel daunted by financial tasks, I put off freezing my credit reports for years because I thought it would be too much of a hassle. (I also didn’t like that, until recently, you had to cough up money to freeze and unfreeze your reports.)
But after a new law went into effect making it free to restrict access to your credit reports until you’re ready to use them, I finally got around to putting my reports on ice.
Credit experts often recommend freezing your reports as a first line of defense against hacks. By freezing your reports, you make it impossible for any would-be fraudster to open credit in your name.
To my surprise, the process was not only easier than I expected; it was also a lot faster. For example, here are six persistent fears that kept me from freezing my reports that turned out to be unfounded.
Fear no. 1: It’s going to take forever to freeze my reports.
Since you have to freeze each credit report individually by contacting all three credit bureaus separately, I was sure the process would take a good chunk of my morning. But in reality, it took just minutes.
All three major bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, have set up online freeze centers that make it a breeze to lock down your credit file and then reopen it when you’re ready to apply for a new card or take out a loan.
TransUnion has even created an app you can use to freeze or thaw your credit “right from your pocket.” (The app is available in the Apple iTunes store or through Google Play.) All you have to do is set up an account and answer some security questions in order to verify your identity. From there, you can freeze your reports with a simple click. You can also freeze your reports via phone or mail; but the process may not be as speedy.
Fear no. 2: I’ll have to memorize a lengthy PIN
Not anymore. TransUnion and Equifax have made it simpler to unlock your credit reports by allowing you to unfreeze them online without using a PIN. To unfreeze your reports, you’ll just need your login information. (You may still want to keep tabs on your PIN, though, since you’ll need it if you want to unfreeze your accounts by phone.)
Experian still requires a PIN to unfreeze your accounts; but unlike Equifax, it at least lets you choose a memorable PIN yourself. Equifax, by contrast, generates a unique and lengthy number for you. TransUnion also lets you choose your own PIN.
See related: Main lesson after Equifax breach: Protect yourself
Fear no. 3: It’s going to be a pain to thaw my reports
Not so. Curious, I tried thawing my reports a few days after freezing them. Since I didn’t have to reenter my personal information this time (I just used my personal login), the process was even faster than when I froze my reports in the first place. Experian even makes it especially simple by displaying a giant button on its website that you can click on to thaw your report.
Fear no. 4: I’ll to have to remember to refreeze my reports once I’ve unlocked them
I tend to be forgetful and so I dreaded having one more thing to track whenever I wanted to apply for credit. Luckily, credit bureaus let you specify how long you want to make your credit reports available, so you don’t have to try to remember to refreeze your reports once you’re done applying for credit.
For example, I chose a one-week period to keep my credit reports open so I could respond to a recent credit offer. After I apply for my new card, I won’t have to think about my credit report freezes again until it is time to apply for additional credit. Alternatively, if you’re not sure how long you want lenders to have access to your reports, you can choose to unfreeze your credit indefinitely.
Fear no. 5: I’ll have to plan way ahead when I want to apply for credit
I also used to worry that if I didn’t remember to unfreeze my credit ahead of time, I’d get blocked from applying for new credit. But, by law, credit bureaus now have to unfreeze your credit within an hour of your request. They must also implement your credit freeze within one business day if you freeze your reports online or over the phone.
See related: Wanted: Your personal data, and not just by Facebook
Fear no. 6: I’ll no longer get juicy offers
Finally, I put off freezing my credit, in part, because I like receiving credit card offers and wrongly assumed freezing my credit would block them. I’ve consistently found that the prescreened offers I receive in the mail tend to have better sign-up bonuses than what I see online. Luckily, freezing your credit doesn’t actually affect prescreened offers. You’ll continue to receive card offers if you haven’t opted out from them.
Lesson learned: Don’t let fear hold you back
Too often, I put off financial chores because I feel intimidated or overwhelmed by them or because I have preconceived ideas that turn out to be incorrect. But, as I found with credit freezes, many of the financial chores I put off are simpler and faster to do than I predicted. If I’d only taken the time to get started, I would have found out a lot earlier that freezing my credit wasn’t nearly as big a pain as it seemed.