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credit & debt

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.

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, 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.

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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? Nope. As of September 21, 2018, placing and lifting a freeze is free at each of the major credit agencies, thanks to a new federal law. Previously, consumers in most states had to pay fees.

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

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.

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As you set up the freeze, you’ll receive a PIN that you may need to verify your identity when you want to temporarily remove or permanently lift the freeze. Equifax formulates the PIN for you whether you go online or call to place a freeze. Experian lets you select your PIN when you freeze online or over the phone, or you can have Experian set the PIN for you. TransUnion generates the PIN if you set up a freeze by phone, but you create your own PIN when you place a freeze online or through the myTransUnion mobile app.

Until recently, you had to provide the PIN no matter what method you used to thaw the freeze. Equifax and TransUnion, however, no longer require the PIN to unfreeze your credit file online or with the TransUnion app. Instead, you create a password-protected account through which you can manage the freeze. (But you’ll still need the PIN to lift the freeze over the phone.) Experian requires the PIN regardless of how you unfreeze your credit report.

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Think about the number you'd like to use for your PIN -- don't pick something obvious, such as your birth date -- and of passwords that you can use for your Equifax and TransUnion accounts, if you choose to place the freezes online. Keep a pen and paper handy to jot down your PINs and passwords.

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.

Freeze your credit with Equifax Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, GA 30348 (Fill out and submit this form to request a freeze by mail.) 800-349-9960

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

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 online account passwords, 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. (On the Equifax web page, go to “Log In” in the upper right corner, then choose “Freeze & Fraud Alerts” to sign in to your myEquifax account.)

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