You can now freeze your credit for free: What to know

All consumers can now freeze and unfreeze their credit at their own leisure, for free, after a new law took effect Friday.

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The law received congressional approval in May – and was intended as a step toward helping consumers protect their sensitive information in the wake of the damaging 2017 Equifax breach. Previously, in some states, credit reporting agencies charged a small fee for the process.

Freezing credit is one way experts say individuals can protect their data from criminals, though it is necessary to do so at all three main bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – to be fully effective. A credit freeze limits access to your credit file, thus hindering the ability of cybercriminals to use your name to open new accounts.

Users are typically given a PIN to enter when they want to unfreeze accounts, in order for a bank to access it when an individual wants to take out a loan or open a line of credit. Freezes can be lifted temporarily or for a single party.

The freeze will go into effect within one day of initiation and does not affect a user’s credit score.

Despite its effectiveness as an anti-fraud tool, a recent CompareCards.com survey showed only 30 percent of Americans had ever put one in place.

Each of the three major credit bureaus has a link on their website to initiate a credit freeze.

Still, even a freeze still does not guarantee a criminal cannot use your data, so it is important for consumers to continue taking other steps to protect their personal information.

The legislation also makes it easier to check your children’s credit. Fraud using a minor’s information can have a higher likelihood of going undetected for a longer period of time.

The new measures take effect more than a year after the massive Equifax hack, which compromised the personal information of more than 147 million Americans. That data included birth dates and Social Security numbers, among a number of other confidential data points.

The Federal Trade Commission has all the information necessary about how to freeze credit with the three main bureaus.