Free Credit Report Freezes

A new federal law will soon allow everyone to freeze -- and thaw -- their credit report free. A freeze can deter identity theft.

Question: I'd like to freeze my credit record to protect against identity theft. I heard that Congress recently passed a law making credit freezes free. When can I get my free freeze?

Answer: Congress just passed a law that will prohibit the three big credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—from charging a fee to place or lift a credit freeze. The free freezes will be available throughout the country this fall; the credit bureaus have until September 21, 2018, to implement the new law. A credit freeze prevents new creditors from reviewing your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to take out credit in your name.

Until the new law goes into effect, the cost to freeze your credit record varies by state. In many states, each credit bureau charges $5 to $10 to freeze your credit record and may charge a similar fee to lift the freeze if you're applying for a loan. (To hinder ID thieves, you need to freeze your record at all three credit bureaus.)

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But several states recently passed laws to eliminate credit-freeze fees. You can place a free credit freeze in Colorado, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Washington, D.C. (You may need to pay a fee to lift the freeze in some of these states.) By the end of June, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington state will also be offering free credit freezes.

Go to www.equifax.com (opens in new tab), www.experian.com (opens in new tab) and www.transunion.com (opens in new tab) to initiate the freeze and find out more about the cost and procedures. Equifax, which experienced a massive data breach last year, is offering free freezes for all consumers until June 30.

Also check with your state attorney general's office (opens in new tab) or consumer protection bureau (opens in new tab) to find out whether your state offers additional consumer protections on security freezes beyond what the federal law provides.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.