When Should You Lock or Freeze Your Credit?

Credit card frozen in ice block
Photo: Marwood Jenkins / Getty Images

Have you been worried about identity theft? If so, you might have looked into locking or freezing your credit. But, do you know the difference?

A credit lock and credit freeze generally do the same thing: they prevent anyone from opening credit in your name. But, there are also differences between these options.

Lock vs. Freeze

All three major credit bureaus give consumers the option to lock their credit reports. When you do this, a lender can’t get access to it to approve any loan or line of credit. However, keep in mind that this is an agreement between you and the credit bureau. To make it effective, you have to do it with all three bureaus.

A credit freeze does a similar thing. It freezes your credit report so that lenders cannot access it. A credit freeze is also guaranteed by law.

So, what’s the difference? Well, the big difference comes from how a lock and freeze operate.

When you do a credit freeze, which is generally convenient and affordable, you go through a series of different steps, online, by phone, or through the mail. You can lift the freeze at any time when you want to legitimately apply for credit. And you can set the freeze to automatically refreeze on a specific date. 

With any lift, you must provide a PIN number. However, this is dependent on the credit bureaus' unique policy.

Are They Convenient?

Though some say a credit freeze is more convenient than a credit lock, there is still time that must pass before it’s effective. Generally, this can take up to one hour. When the freeze is initially initiated, you will get a PIN number. You must retain this PIN in your records and enter it to lift the freeze, and you must ask each credit bureau to unfreeze your report.

A credit lock does not have a PIN. You generally initiate a lock by using a secure app on your phone. It occurs immediately through TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Also, keep in mind that you cannot freeze and lock your accounts at the same time. You have to choose one or the other.

Considering Cost

You probably want to think about cost, too. It’s worth it to mention that Equifax and TransUnion both offer free products to lock your credit down. But, remember, with a credit lock, you must lock your credit through each bureau. It won’t help much if you are locked up in two, but the third is open to anyone.

  • Equifax has a brand-new credit lock in place, and it seems to be different than what the company offered previously. Equifax operates its credit lock through its Lock & Alert service, which is free and helps protect consumers from identity theft. Other products such as Equifax Complete and Credit Monitor offer fraud alerts and credit monitoring, among other features.
  • Experian has a similar product that is subscription-based. It is called CreditLock, and it’s available through the company’s CreditWorks service. It is free for the first 7 days and then costs $24.99 per month. A credit lock is another term for an identity theft protection service.

Credit freezes are now free due to changes in federal law. The cost of freezing and then lifting your freeze is cheaper than paying a monthly fee to keep your credit locked when using a product like Experian's CreditLock.

The one reason you might consider a lock with Experian is that the system checks your credit each day, and it immediately alerts you if there is an instance of someone trying to check your credit.

This might sound like an awesome deal and worth the $25… but, it might not be. Many experts don’t recommend that you pay for credit monitoring because you can usually do the same thing for free through your credit card company or other financial account services.

That’s definitely something to think about before you start shelling out cash for a credit lock. A credit freeze will be just fine if you want protection, and it costs less.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Federal Trade Commission. "Fraud Alert, Freeze or Lock After Equifax? FAQs."

  2. Federal Trade Commission. "Free Credit Freezes Are Here."

  3. Equifax. "Lock & Alert."

  4. Equifax. "Compare Our Value Products."

  5. Experian. "Experian CreditLock."

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