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Kip Tips

Freeze Your Credit in 3 Steps

Freezing your accounts at the three major credit bureaus is the best way to prevent thieves from opening new credit accounts in your name.

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Not so long ago, a credit freeze was a tool usually reserved for people who had suffered identity theft. But as data breaches have piled up -- culminating with the massive data breach at credit agency Equifax announced in September 2017 -- the freeze has become more widely recognized as the most effective way to protect your credit, even if a thief hasn't yet made fraudulent use of your personal information.

SEE ALSO: The Equifax Data Breach: What You Should Do

The reason: When you place a credit freeze (also known as a security freeze) on your credit reports, new creditors can't review them to judge whether you're eligible for a credit card or loan -- and in turn, lenders are unlikely to grant credit to fraudsters posing as you. When you need to shop for credit, you can temporarily lift the freeze.

Do I have to pay? By September 21, 2018, placing and lifting a freeze will be free at each of the major credit agencies, thanks to a new federal law. Until then, in most states you may have to pay (at each bureau) to impose a freeze as well as when you need to lift it, unless you have a police report proving you were a victim of ID theft. (Equifax is already waiving fees to add and lift freezes.)

To set up a credit freeze, take these three steps.

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1. Gather your information. At a minimum, you'll have to supply identifying information such as your Social Security number, birth date and address. If you haven't lived at your current home for more than a couple of years, you may need to have your previous address on hand, too.

You must provide a PIN when you want to temporarily lift or permanently remove a freeze. Equifax formulates the PIN for you whether you go online or call to place a freeze. Experian generates the PIN and mails it to you if you set up a freeze by phone, but you have the option to create a PIN of your choice if you place the freeze on its website. TransUnion requires you to create your own PIN whether you place a freeze by phone or online. Think about the number you'd like to use -- and don't pick something obvious, such as your birth date. Keep a pen and paper handy to jot down your PINs.

2. Contact each credit agency. The web pages or phone numbers below are the quickest avenues to imposing a freeze. To submit your request by mail, use these addresses (identity-theft victims may have to use snail mail to send documentation).

Freeze your credit with Equifax
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
800-349-9960

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Freeze your credit with Experian
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
888-397-3742

Or ID theft victims can submit documents here.

Freeze your credit with TransUnion
TransUnion LLC
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
888-909-8872

3. Save your PINs. Write down the PINs, and keep them in a safe place at home. When you're ready to shop for a loan or lift the freeze for any other reason, you can call the phone numbers or visit the websites listed above. (An exception: Go here to lift an Experian freeze online.)

SEE ALSO: How I Thwarted ID Thieves