Credit Lock vs. Credit Freeze: Key Differences You Need to Know

You can protect your credit by locking it or freezing it, but there are differences you need to know about.
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Both a credit lock and a credit freeze enable you to protect your identity by restricting access to your credit report.

If you put either a lock or freeze in place, companies will not be able to check your credit until you've thawed the freeze or lifted your lock. Because companies do not typically extend credit without a credit report check, both a lock and freeze can prevent the unauthorized use of your personal information to open new accounts.

But although a lock and freeze both keep your credit information secure, they are not the same, and it's important to understand the key differences between a credit lock and a freeze.

Specifically, the law requires credit freezes to be free and there are more legal protections afforded with a freeze. On the other hand, locks can cost money and come with less protection. However, credit locks can be easier to lift than freezes are.

This guide will explain more about the differences so you can decide whether a lock or a freeze is best for your situation.

In this article
Credit lock vs. freeze
What is a credit lock?
How to start a credit lock
How to stop a credit lock
What is a credit freeze?
How to start a credit freeze
How to unfreeze your credit
Why use a credit lock or freeze?
FAQs
Bottom line

Credit lock vs. freeze

Credit lock Credit freeze
What it does A credit lock is a service offered (sometimes for a fee) that restricts access to your credit report. You can turn a lock off and on at any time via an app or secure site. A credit freeze is a free service that restricts access to your credit report until you provide a PIN number to authorize a review of your credit. There are federal laws governing credit freezes
How much it costs $24.99- $34.99 per month with Experian (Credit locks are bundled with other services)

$0 with Equifax Lock and Alert

$0 with TrueIdentity from TransUnion

$0
How soon it takes effect Instant By law, within 24 hours
How long it takes for it to be removed Instant By law, within one hour
Where to request it Equifax

Experian

TransUnion

Equifax

Experian

TransUnion

What is a credit lock?

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S. Each offers services designed to help you fight identity theft — including credit locks. As mentioned above, these locks prevent creditors from checking your credit report to determine whether you should be issued a new credit account.

For a lock to be effective, you must lock your credit with each of these three major credit bureaus. Otherwise, if a thief applied for a loan and the lender happened to check your report with a bureau you didn't set up a lock with, the thief could potentially be successful in opening an account in your name.

Experian offers a credit lock, known as Experian CreditLock, only as part of a bundle with other identity theft protection tools. The charge for these services starts at a $24.99 monthly fee. The $24.99 program, called Experian CreditWorks Premium, also includes access to free credit reports and identity theft insurance.

Both Equifax and TransUnion offer free credit locking. Equifax's free program is called Lock & Alert, and TransUnion’s offering is part of a credit monitoring service called TrueIdentity.

Although the costs differ, each credit reporting agency's process for locking credit is similar. You can use a mobile app or a secure site to immediately lock your credit report, so no lenders can access your credit history to determine whether to approve a loan. You can also toggle access to your report off and on instantly so if you want to apply for credit, it's easy to provide access to your report and score.

Once you are enrolled in a service with a credit reporting bureau, there is no fee to unlock and lock your credit as many times as you want. If you hope to apply for a loan, you can sign into your account and unlock your credit as many times as you want — then lock it up again when you're done to keep your identifying information secure.

Credit freezes and credit locks have no impact on your credit score.

How to start a credit lock

Remember, if you want locking your credit to be successful, you must shut off access to your credit report from all three of the credit reporting agencies. You can find the websites to start the process at the following links:

Each of the credit reporting agencies will require you to sign up for a service to lock your credit, though only Experian charges for this. You will need to provide your name and Social Security number and verify your identity.

Once you have signed up for the service, you can download the app provided by the reporting agencies. You can then just click a simple button in the app to either turn the credit lock on or turn it off.

How to stop a credit lock

If you are applying for a credit card, car loan, or another type of financing, you will need to unlock your credit from the reporting agency the lender wishes to use to check your credit. You can typically just log into your online credit lock services account with the credit bureau where unlocking your credit is as simple as swiping the correct button.

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze also restricts access to your credit report and prevents any creditors from reviewing it. Again, this, in effect, prevents anyone from opening credit in your name because lenders virtually always check a report and score before approving a line of credit. Credit security freezes are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.

Unlike credit locks, credit freezes are offered for free from every credit reporting agency. Federal law requires they come at $0 cost. It also requires credit reporting agencies to activate freezes within 24 hours of a phone or online request and to lift the freeze within an hour of an online request to do so. Often, the credit reporting agencies will act even more quickly to lift a freeze, doing so instantly if you turn the freeze off or on in your online account.

Typically, when you freeze your credit, you will be provided with a special PIN or code to unfreeze it. If you cannot provide this when you attempt to unfreeze your credit, then your report may remain frozen and access will remain limited.

How to start a credit freeze

As with a credit lock, you must freeze your credit with each of the three major credit reporting agencies for it to be effective. You can visit the websites to initiate the process using the links below:

You will need to create an account with each of the reporting agencies and provide your personal demographic details, including your Social Security number. Once you have created an account, you can use the online service center to initiate a freeze.

How to unfreeze your credit

Unfreezing your credit is also called thawing it. To unfreeze your credit, be ready with your PIN number and/or other personal identifying details you were provided at the time of freezing. You can contact each of the three credit reporting agencies by mail or phone to request a temporary or permanent lift to a freeze.

Federal law requires that when you request your credit be thawed, the credit reporting agencies must act on that within an hour.

Why use a credit lock or freeze?

Credit locks and credit freezes can both be great options to prevent identity theft. If you freeze or lock down your credit, you will need to take formal action to thaw or unlock it, which would-be identity thieves should be unable to do.

If you are aware your personal information has been compromised — such as in circumstances where you are notified of a data breach — moving forward with a freeze or with locking your credit can be one of the best things to do to prevent scammers from using your information to commit credit fraud.

It is especially important to freeze or lock your credit in situations where you are at high risk due to already being a victim of identity theft. But if you've been lucky enough to avoid your data falling into the wrong hands, you may still wish to consider a credit lock or a credit freeze as a preventative measure.

FAQs


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Is a credit lock the same as a freeze?

A credit lock and a credit freeze serve the same purpose but aren't the same. Both restrict access to your credit report. But a freeze is free and there are strict legal rules around it. A lock can cost money and doesn't come with the same legal protections, but it can be easier to unlock your credit than to unfreeze it.


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Is there a downside to freezing your credit?

There are downsides to freezing your credit. You will need to lift the freeze or "thaw" your credit to apply for a loan or credit card. You also must put a freeze in place independently at each of the three major credit reporting agencies in order for the freeze to effectively protect against misuse of your information to obtain credit unlawfully.


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What are the benefits of freezing your credit?

Freezing credit restricts access to your credit file. If someone tries to apply for new credit in your name, the freeze prevents creditors from reviewing your credit score and history. This makes it virtually impossible for someone to open credit in your name. Freezes are free and legal protections apply, such as a requirement that credit reporting agencies put the freeze in place within 24 hours.


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What is a fraud alert?

A fraud alert lets anyone attempting to access your credit know you may be a fraud victim. If there’s a fraud alert on your account, credit card companies and other businesses must verify your identity before they issue new credit. You only need to contact one credit bureau to place a fraud alert. That bureau will contact the other two. A fraud alert is also free.

Whether a fraud alert, credit lock, or credit freeze is best for you depends on how often you anticipate needing to grant access to your credit file and the level of security you’re looking for. If you’re actively applying for credit cards or loans, a fraud alert may be more useful because you won’t have to constantly freeze and unfreeze or lock and unlock your credit report. A credit lock or freeze may do more to protect your credit, however, as it prevents access to your credit file.

Bottom line

When someone uses your identity to open a credit card or take a loan, this can cause you a lot of financial stress and hassle. The good news is, both credit locks and credit freezes make it harder for any thieves to misuse your information to take on debt in your name. Now that you know how both a lock and a freeze work, you can decide which one is best for your needs.

By moving forward with either a lock or a freeze, you can hopefully avoid becoming one of the 2.8 million consumers who reported fraud to the FTC in 2021. Because it's simple and easy to either freeze or lock your credit, there's no reason not to do one or the other in most circumstances.

Find out more steps to keep yourself safe in our guide to identity theft protection and credit monitoring.

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Author Details
Christy Rakoczy, an identity theft expert with a JD from UCLA’s School of Law, has over a decade of experience writing about cybersecurity issues and laws surrounding identity fraud. Formerly a college instructor, she taught courses focused on legal issues surrounding internet privacy. When it comes to cybersecurity, Christy is deeply interested in promoting responsible practices such as keeping software up-to-date with security patches, selecting proper anti-virus software, and following best practices for passports.