The Difference Between a Credit Freeze and a Credit Lock (and When to Use Each)

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In today’s world of rampant identity theft and data breaches, protecting your credit has become vitally important. Two of the main tools you can use to safeguard your information are credit freezes and credit locks. While both restrict access to your credit file, there are some key differences to understand.

What is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, allows you to seal your credit reports at the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. No one can view your credit file or credit score until you temporarily lift or permanently remove the freeze. This makes it extremely difficult for identity thieves to open new credit accounts in your name.

How credit freezes work

  • Freezes are governed by federal law and are completely free for everyone to place, lift, or remove.

  • You must contact each credit bureau individually to freeze your report with that bureau.

  • Freezes remain in place permanently unless you lift or remove them.

  • You can temporarily lift freezes when you need to apply for new credit by providing a PIN.

  • Freezes don’t affect your credit score or existing creditor access.

What is a credit lock?

A credit lock is a credit monitoring tool offered by each credit bureau that lets you quickly lock and unlock access to your credit report. Like freezes, locks prevent lenders from viewing your report and opening new accounts. But there are some major differences.

How credit locks work

  • Locks are programs offered by credit bureaus, not controlled by federal law.

  • Locks may be free initially but often require a paid subscription for continued use.

  • The process to lock and unlock your report is faster than freezes.

  • Locks may automatically re-lock after a specified period of time.

  • Credit locks don’t have the same legal protections as freezes under some state laws.

When to use freezes vs. locks

So in what situations are freezes or locks most appropriate? Freezes offer the highest level of security and legal protection from identity theft and credit fraud. They’re a great option for most consumers, especially those who don’t plan to open new credit accounts frequently.

Credit locks can provide added convenience by allowing you to quickly lock and unlock your reports. They may be suited for those who need to apply for new credit more often and are willing to pay for the service. However, locks don’t have the same legal backing as freezes in some states.

The best practice may be to freeze your credit reports and only unlock them when you plan to open a new line of credit. For instances where you need to repeatedly lock and unlock over a short period, a lock could make sense. But for maximum security and legal protection, freezes are still the recommended route for most. For more, here’s how to “thaw” your credit instead of a full freeze or unfreeze.

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