A credit freeze prevents lenders from pulling your credit score and history, and it can protect you from identity theft. Here’s how to freeze your credit with Equifax.
Many factors affect your credit score – new accounts, available credit, on-time payments – and all of them can be hijacked by fraudsters. But you can protect yourself from identity theft by placing a credit freeze on your file.
A credit freeze prevents lenders from pulling your credit score and history. Without those pieces of data, they won’t be able to approve you for a new account, which means that fraudsters trying to use your information will be stopped in their tracks.
Placing a freeze is a fairly straightforward process. But you should know that to really safeguard against hackers, you’ll need to request freezes with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
Read on for answers to any questions you may have about freezing your credit with Equifax.
See related: How Equifax, Experian and TransUnion work
When should I request a credit freeze from Equifax?
Credit freezes are most helpful when you know your personal data – such as your Social Security number, address, birthday and other identifying information – has been involved in a breach.
You may recall that in 2017, a data breach at Equifax exposed 147 million people’s personal information. One of the recommendations for how to protect themselves was to place a credit freeze on their files. This would prevent the hackers involved from using their data, or selling it to other thieves who would use it, to open new accounts in their names.
What happens when I freeze my credit?
A credit freeze essentially locks your credit file when it comes to new accounts. Your current creditors can still access the file as it relates to your existing loans and creditors. But they won’t be able to open new credit lines in your name as long as the freeze is in place. New creditors won’t be able to view that data and use it to open new loans or lines of credit either.
This is important because someone who has your name, address, birthday and Social Security number could apply for new cards in your name. Unless you’re checking your credit score and report regularly (which you should be), you may not see the new account until they’ve already maxed out the balance, leaving you to pay the bill. Worse yet, you may not receive statements until your payments are late and accruing interest.
See related: What happens when you miss a credit card payment?
Will a credit freeze lower my credit score?
Your credit score will not be affected by a credit freeze. As long as you make payments on time and don’t use too much of your available credit, you can maintain a good credit score regardless of whether there’s a freeze on your file.
In fact, a freeze helps protect your credit since you won’t have hard inquiries hitting your account every time they try to open a new card. A hard inquiry is what happens when creditors pull your file to make lending decisions, and it temporarily lowers your score.
If a thief manages to open an account and runs up high balances, that hurts your credit utilization ratio, which also drags down your score.
What if I need to open a credit card or take out a loan?
If you need to apply for a new credit card or loan, you can temporarily lift the freeze by logging into your myEquifax account, which you’ll need to set up in order to request the freeze in the first place.
You can either temporarily lift your freezes with all three credit bureaus, or you can ask your lender which one they use to check your credit. The latter option will save you some time since you only need to lift the freeze with one.
When you’re ready to end your credit freezes permanently, you can do so online with each bureau.
How much does a credit freeze cost?
Credit freezes are free to request and remove. You will not have to pay for a credit freeze with Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.
How do I freeze my credit with Equifax?
The easiest way to freeze your credit with Equifax is to create an online account and request the freeze through the bureau’s website. You’ll then be able to temporarily and permanently remove the block via the website when you’re ready as well. You can also call Equifax or mail in a request.
If you need to request a credit freeze for your child, another adult for whom you have power of attorney or a military servicemember, you’ll need to provide proof of your identity and theirs, along with documentation showing that you’re authorized to handle their account.
Keep in mind that when you place a credit freeze, it doesn’t stop fraudsters from making charges if they have access to your existing accounts. A credit freeze helps prevent fraudulent account creation, but it won’t protect your current cards.
Other security measures
After you’ve lifted your credit freeze, you’ll want to continue keeping tabs on your account activity. One way to do this is through a fraud alert. By placing a fraud alert on your Equifax file, you’ll receive a phone call or another notification every time a lender pulls your credit. That way, you’ll get a heads up as soon as someone tries to open an account in your name. The nice thing about fraud alerts is that when you place one at Equifax, it will alert TransUnion and Experian as well. (Same goes for placing a fraud alert with one of those bureaus first.)
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft and have a police report, you can also request an extended fraud alert. Unlike the standard alert, which you must renew annually to keep in place, an extended alert stays active for seven years.
You can also set up a credit lock, which is similar to a freeze, except that you’ll lock and unlock your file via a mobile app. The advantage of a credit lock is that you can set up a biometric login, such as using your fingerprint, and unlock your account instantly whenever you want to apply for credit.
Monitor your accounts
Check your transaction logs once a week to catch any fraudulent purchases. You can even set up purchase notifications through your bank’s or lender’s mobile app, so you can see every time something gets charged to your account.
Make sure to request your free credit report from each of the bureaus every year, which you can do at AnnualCreditReport.com. Review each one carefully to make sure all of your account information is accurate.
Credit freezes and fraud alerts are helpful if you think your data has been exposed or you suspect you might be the victim of identity theft. But general vigilance is essential to protecting your data and your finances.