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Credit Lock or Credit Freeze, What’s the Difference?

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melting ice cubes represent credit freeze and credit lock

Often mistaken as one and the same, a credit lock and a credit freeze are similar, but not the same. Both block creditors and anyone else from accessing your credit file and opening accounts in your name. Both can help protect you from fraud and identity theft. Freezes are free and a bit harder to undo. Locks aren’t always free and can be easier to open and reapply. Here’s a rundown of the differences between these two approaches.

What Is a Credit Freeze?

On its website, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines a credit freeze as a tool that lets you “restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.”

Lenders need credit reports to determine whether you’re eligible for a new line of credit. The flip side is that thieves can pretend to be you and lenders having access to those reports can result in identity theft. When you have a credit freeze in place, no one can pull your credit reports, so a lender can’t okay a loan or credit card in your name.

A credit freeze doesn’t affect your credit score and:

  1. Doesn’t permanently prevent you from opening a new account or doing other things like applying for a job or renting a home. However, if you decide to take out a new line of credit or do anything else that requires a credit check, you’ll need to lift the freeze temporarily, either for a specific time or for a specific
  2. Doesn’t prevent you from accessing your free annual credit report.
  3. Doesn’t prevent a thief from using your existing financial accounts, so you still need to monitor them.
  4. Must be placed individually with all three credit bureaus.

What Is a Credit Lock?

A credit lock is another way you can protect your credit. Like a freeze, it blocks access to your credit file so none one can open a new account in your name.

A credit lock doesn’t affect your credit score and:

  1. May require a monthly fee.
  2. Doesn’t prevent you from accessing your free annual credit report.
  3. Doesn’t prevent a thief from using your existing financial accounts, so you still need to monitor them.
  4. Must be placed with all three credit bureaus.

Differences Between a Credit Lock and a Credit Freeze

The key difference between a lock and a freeze is that’s it faster and easier to lift a credit lock than it is a credit freeze.

  • Lifting a freeze requires a PIN be used to unlock it online or that you make a request in writing.
  • Lifting a lock can be done instantly online or using a mobile app—no PIN required.

Additionally, credit freezes are governed by laws. Those laws ensure a free will protect your credit accounts and that you can put a freeze in place—or remove it—for free. Under the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act enacted in 2018, credit freezes are required to be free as are one-year fraud alerts.

Credit locks aren’t necessarily free and are simply agreements between you and the credit bureau with no legal protection in place. In other words, the credit bureaus aren’t responsible if you have a lock in place and a new credit account ends up being opened in your name.

When to Use a Freeze or Lock or Alert

If you think your credit report and other personal data have been compromised or exposed, or your risk of exposure is high, consider a credit freeze. Sometimes placing a freeze on your credit can be a hassle and can be in place at a bad time.

A credit lock can be used as more of a preventative measure to help safeguard your information before anything actually happens.

There are also times that simply placing a fraud alert on your credit file is more beneficial. A fraud alert is essentially a shorter-term soft lock. Per the FTC, a fraud alert “requires companies to verify your identity before extending new credit. Usually, that means calling you to check if you’re really trying to open a new account.” Fraud alerts usually last 90 days but can be put in place for up to a year and at no cost to you. They won’t prevent soft inquiries to your file, which may be more convenient when you’re trying to monitor your credit score through a service, such as

Why Lock or Freeze Your Credit?

In many cases of identity theft, a thief finds an unsuspecting victim’s name and Social Security number. If that victim has a satisfactory credit score, the thief uses the victim’s information to open a new line of credit—usually, a credit card that’s sent to an address known only to the thief.

Once you’re a victim of identity theft and an identity thief has a card in your name, he/she usually makes quick, high-volume charges—often charging thousands or tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of clothes, computers, digital television sets or other merchandise in a short space of time. Responsibility for the price tag of a fraudulent spending spree often falls on either the bank that issued the card or the merchant who sold the goods to a thief.

However, the victim shoulders ongoing costs including a damaged credit score, legal fees, denied loans, phone calls from debt collectors and hours spent trying to address and undo the damage.

A lock, freeze or alerts, gives you an added layer of protection against thieves.

How a Credit Freeze Works

In order to freeze your credit file, contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You’ll need to provide certain information, such as identification information before each will place a freeze on your credit report. The process isn’t complicated and should take no more than an hour to do for all three agencies combined.

You can remove a freeze permanently or temporarily. And permanently removing one doesn’t mean you can put it back in place later on. The action is called a “thaw” per industry jargon—and it’s free. You can remove a freeze online or in writing with each of the bureaus individually.

How Do I Freeze My Credit?

To freeze your credit, you need to contact each of the credit bureaus. Here’s a closer look at what each requires.

Experian Credit Freeze

To request a security freeze on your Experian credit file, you can visit the Experian Security Freeze hub.

You can also lift your freeze on the Experian Security Freeze hub or submit a request in writing. When you visit the hub, you’ll need the PIN you created when you initiated your freeze.

Equifax Credit Freeze

You can place a freeze on your Equifax credit file through the Equifax credit report services page, calling 1-800-685-1111 (1-800-349-9960 for NY residents) or submitting a written request to:

Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 10578
Atlanta, Georgia 30348

Be sure to include your full name, Social Security number, date of birth, payment and address. To temporarily lift a freeze, you can do that on the hub as well, call the same toll-free numbers or submit a request in writing.

TransUnion Credit Freeze

You can place or lift a TransUnion credit freeze on the TransUnion website, using the TransUnion app on your phone or by calling 888-909-8872.

How Do I Lock My Credit?

When locking your credit file, you need to contact each of the credit bureaus. Here’s a closer look at what each requires.

Experian Credit Lock

To lock or unlock your Experian credit file, visit the Experian lock alert page. Experian does charge you to lock your credit file. At the time of publication, the cost was $4.99 the first month and $24.99 each month after that. That fee includes not only the lock but up to $1 million in identity theft insurance, credit monitoring of all three credit bureaus and personalized credit advice.

Equifax Credit Freeze

To lock or unlock your Experian credit file, visit the Equifax lock alert page or use the Equifax Lock & Alert app. Putting a lock on your Equifax report is free as of the time of publication.

TransUnion Credit Freeze

You can lock or unlock your TransUnion credit file and your Equifax file on the TransUnion credit lock page. Like Experian, TransUnion charges for locks. The cost is $24.95 a month.  That fee includes not only the lock but credit monitoring and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.

A Brief History of Credit Freezes and Credit Locks

More than 10 years ago, representatives from several leading consumer advocacy groups including members of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, came up with a solution to new account fraud, known as the security freeze or alternately as a credit freeze. At the time, granting consumers the right to allow and deny access to their credit reports at will was new to the U.S. credit reporting system.

Credit freezes started at the state level. Consumer advocates began their push to enact state-level legislation that would make security freezes open to all consumers. The activists met early success in California, which approved the country’s first security freeze statute in January 2003. Since then, the other 49 and the District of Columbia have followed suit.

In 2018, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act mandated that credit freezes be free for all consumers.

Credit locks are newer that freezes and their history isn’t easy to track. The approach may have evolved as a byproduct of credit monitoring services.

Monitor Your Credit Score

If you’re not sure if a lock or freeze is right for you or aren’t yet ready to take that step or even if you have, one step you can take is to monitor your credit score. A sudden change in your score can alert you to recent fraud on your credit. You can get your free Experian credit score on When you do, you get an updated score ever two weeks and a free credit report card.

This article was last published December 5, 2016, and has since been updated by another author.

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  • dsundiego

    What about the most recent data breach at Blue Cross Anthem? That is huge, and very disturbing. I have great credit and am not at all interested in some Bozo getting a free ride at my expense. How do we deal with that?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      We’ve written three articles so far about the Anthem breach. If you use the search function at the top of the blog and type in Anthem breach you should be able to see them all. It is a serious problem, as you say.

  • Gerri Detweiler
  • John Q Governor

    Car dealers are hugely against credit freezes. What does that tell you?

  • Disqus10021

    Credit freezes are not an absolute guarantee against identity theft. Nothing is. But they are much less expensive than the big credit monitoring company with the million dollar guarantee. I have had them in place almost as long as the law has been in effect in my state. I tested the freeze at a large store and it worked. The clerk had offered me a $15 discount on what I was buying if I applied for a store credit card at the cash register. My application was rejected, as it should have been. The credit reporting agencies won’t release your credit report without your pin number.
    Over a year ago, I was tricked into applying for a passport renewal on a website that I thought was a US government web site. Fortunately, no credit cards have been fraudulently issued in my name since then, but I do check at least one credit report annually for unusual entries.
    Your first line of defense is you. If you want to play dumb, stupid and lazy, that’s your choice. Data breaches are a fact of life in the US. Do what you can to protect yourself before you become a victim.

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