In the age of paperless transactions, identify theft is something that virtually all of us are susceptible to. If your identity is stolen, the consequences can be severe, and in some cases, can take years to recover from. One way to be proactive against fraud and defend yourself from identity theft, is to freeze your credit report with each of the three major credit bureausâExperian, TransUnion, and Equifax.Â
Placing a credit freeze on your credit report will stop identity thieves from being able to open new accounts, lines of credit, or make any large purchases in your name, regardless of whether or not they have your Social Security number or any other sensitive information.Â
What a credit freeze means
A credit freeze is a process that shuts off access to your credit reports at your request. Without your verified consent, your delicate information cannot be acquired. This means that if someone were to attempt to apply for credit in your name, your report would come up as âfrozen,â and therefore the creditor would not be able to see the information needed for the application to be approved.
You can unfreeze your credit at any time by using a PIN or a password.Â
Reasons to freeze your credit
It might be a good idea to freeze your credit if youâre experiencing any of the following situations:
- Your data has been compromised in a data breach: It happens. If youâve been a victim of a data breach and personal information related to your identity has been leaked or made vulnerable to cyber criminals, a credit freeze can offer you some extra protection.Â
- You have reason to think youâve been a victim of identity theft: Perhaps youâve checked your credit recently and noticed open accounts that you donât recognize. Maybe youâve been getting phone calls from collections agencies requesting payments from accounts you know you didnât open. While a credit freeze wonât be able to stop them from using accounts a thief has already opened, it can stop them from opening any more.Â
- You want to protect your child from identity theft: According to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, parents and legally guardians of children 16 years old and younger have the right to open a credit account for their child with the sole purpose of putting a freeze on it to protect them from identity theft.Â
How to freeze your creditÂ
The process of freezing your credit is simple but does require a few steps. You will need to get in touch with each of the three major credit bureaus one by one and request a credit freeze:
- Experian: Contact by phone at 800-349-9960 or go to their website.
- Equifax: Contact by phone at 888-397-3742 or go to their website.
- TransUnion: Contact by phone at 888-909-8872 or go to their website.Â Â
The credit bureaus will ask you for your Social Security number, your date of birth and other information to verify your identity.
Once you freeze your credit, your file will be unattainable even if a thief has sensitive information such as your social security number or date of birth. If you need to use your credit file, you can unfreeze your credit report at any time.Â
How to unfreeze your credit
Once youâve frozen your credit file, it will be remain blocked until you decide that you would like to unfreeze it. You will need to unfreeze your credit report in order to open a new line of credit or make a major purchase.Â
Unfreezing your credit file is simple. All you will need to do is go online to each credit bureau website and use the personal identification number (PIN) that you used to place the freeze on the account. If you donât want to complete this task online, you can also unfreeze your credit file over the phone or through postal mail.Â
When the unfreezing process is done online or by phone, it is completed within minutes of submitting the request. However, if you send your request via mail, it will take much longer.Â
Keep in mind that you donât necessarily need to unfreeze your credit through all three of the major credit bureaus if you donât want to. For instance, letâs say you plan to apply for credit somewhere. You can ask the creditor which credit bureau it will go through to pull up your report, and only unfreeze that one credit bureau.Â
You may also have the option to unfreeze for a specific amount of time. Once the time is up, your credit file will automatically freeze again.Â
Credit freeze pros and cons
There are a few reasons why you might want to freeze your credit in this day and age, but just like with anything else, there are pros and cons to credit freezing. Here is a general breakdown of the benefits and downfalls of putting a freeze on your credit report:
- It prevents thieves from opening new lines of credit: With a credit freeze placed on your account, no one will be able to open a new line of credit or any other type of account requiring a credit check using your personal data. Anyone trying to commit fraud will be stopped in their tracks as soon as lenders notice that the report is frozen.Â
- It wonât affect your credit score: Freezing your credit report will not damage your credit score. Additionally, if youâve been a victim of identity theft, freezing your credit report could actually protect your credit score from being damaged due to fraud.Â
- Itâs free: It used to be the case that some credit freezes would cost a fee, but that is no longer the way it works.Â
- It requires some effort: Putting a credit freeze on your credit report takes some effort. You will need to get in touch with all three credit bureaus.Â
- You will need to remember your PINs: A PIN is required to lift or freeze your credit report. If you lose it, you will need to jump through extra hoops to create a new one.
It canât stop thieves from accessing your existing accounts: Credit freezes can only stop fraudsters from opening new accounts using your information. If youâve already been a victim of identity theft, a credit freeze canât block thieves from committing fraud with your current accounts. This means that thieves can still make a purchase using a credit card they stole from you.
Freezing Your Credit is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, major credit card issuers are offering relief to their customers.
Even though many places around the country are open, the pandemic continues to impact the U.S. economy. Workers are still at risk of being laid off or facing reduced hours or pay.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we want our customers to know we are here to provide assistance should they need it,â Anand Selva, chief executive officer of Citiâs consumer bank, said in a statement in Spring 2020.
At the same time, scammers are now trying to take advantage of coronavirus concerns by sending out fake emails about the virus that are designed to steal consumersâ personal and financial information or to infect their computers with malware.
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Many credit card issuers are allowing customers to opt into financial relief programs online. These programs are a convenient way to access short-term relief. But it could come with a long-term cost as many cardholders will continue to see interest accrue. With the average credit card interest rate sitting at 16.05%, cardholders might find more cost-effective relief through other options.
Here’s what issuers are currently offering:
Cardholders who are having difficulties can get assistance through American Express’s financial hardship program. Eligible cardholders have the option to enroll in a short-term payment plan, which provides relief for 12 months, or a long-term plan, which can provide relief for either 36 or 60 months.
Under both options, you will receive lower interest rates, plus waived late payment fees and annual fees. But you might not have access to certain card benefits and features.
If you enroll in the short-term plan, you might be able to continue putting new purchases on the card but with a reduced spending limit. If you are participating in the long-term plan, you will not be able to use the card.
Amex will report participating cardholders to the credit bureaus as current, assuming they comply with the program’s rules. But the program’s terms do offer some important caveats: Amex will inform the credit bureaus that you are enrolled in a payment assistance program (if you’re in the long-term plan). And under both plans, Amex will report that you have a lower credit limit.
While these factors do not have as much of an impact on your credit score as a delinquent account does, it could still signal to other lenders that you might be having some financial hardship.
Bank of America
Bank of America cardholders who have trouble paying credit card bills can request a credit card payment deferral by calling the number on the back of their card.
To qualify for payment assistance, cardholders must be carrying a balance, according to the website.
Bank of America sent an email to Preferred Rewards members in May 2020 stating that the company had temporarily suspended the annual program review process. Members whose assets dropped below the regular threshold to keep their status would continue to qualify for program benefits. It is unclear if Bank of America is still suspending this program.
Barclays urges credit card account holders to request payment relief online. As of May 4, 2020, the bank is granting payment relief for two statements, but interest will continue to accrue.
âWe understand that this is a time of uncertainty for many people, and we know that there may be instances where customers find themselves facing financial difficulties. Capital One is here to help and we encourage customers who may be impacted to reach out to discuss how we might be of assistance,â the bank said in a statement.
In a March 26, 2020 update, Chairman and CEO Rich Fairbank confirmed that they are offering waived fees and deferred payments on credit cards for some cardholders.
Because each customerâs situation is different, the bank encourages customers to contact it directly. To contact Capital One customer service about an existing account, call (800) 227-4825.
See related: How to clean your credit card
Previously, Chase Bank stated that customers will be able to “delay up to three payments on your personal or business credit card” if needed, with interest continuing to accrue. The website currently does not specify how many payments cardholders can defer.
It also stated that active duty military members who are responding to a disaster might have access to additional benefits. Servicemembers can call the bank for more information.
In a letter to shareholders, the company’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, also promised to not report late payments to the credit bureaus for “up-to-date clients.”
See related: Chase offering limited-time bonus on food delivery for some cardholders
Citi customers who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic might be eligible for assistance. Previously, the bank was waiving payments and late fees for two consecutive billing cycles. However, Citi has ended its pandemic assistance program.
“Due to a significant and steady decline in enrollments, our formal COVID-19 assistance program has concluded and we will focus on providing assistance options to those customers financially affected by COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis. We continue to closely monitor the situation and will evaluate additional actions to support our customers and communities as needs arise,” a spokesperson for Citi said in an email.
During the bank’s pandemic assistance program, interest continued to accrue, but accounts that were current at the time of enrollment were not be reported as delinquent.
Discover will be extending relief to qualified customers who are experiencing financial difficulty caused by the spread of COVID-19.
“We encourage them to contact us by calling and are directing them to www.discover.com/coronavirus for phone numbers for each product line and other FAQs,” Discover said in a statement earlier this year. “We also can provide relief through our mobile text app, which connects a customer directly with an agent.”
Discover it Miles cardmembers can also put their miles towards their bill â including their minimum payment.
See related: What to do if you can’t pay your business credit card bill
Apple Card customers can enroll in an assistance program. Previously, cardholders could waive payments without accruing any interest. The website currently doesn’t specify if this is still the case.
Cardholders can defer payments for three billing cycles. Though interest will continue to accrue, enrolled cardholders will not receive late fees, and their accounts will be reported as current, as long as accounts were not delinquent at the time of enrollment.
Synchrony is extending relief to customers experiencing financial hardship. The company’s website previously stated that this could include payment relief for up to three statement cycles, while interest would continue to accrue. The website currently offers no specifics about what the issuer is prepared to offer.
Truist (formerly SunTrust and BB&T)
Previously, Truist offered payment relief assistance to customers with personal and business credit cards, among other products. As of April 14, it was willing to delay payments for up to 90 days. The website currently offers no specifics about what the issuer is prepared to offer.
Previously, impacted cardholders could defer monthly payments for two consecutive billing cycles. The company’s website currently does not specify what assistance cardholders can expect to receive.
See related: Coronavirus stimulus legislation doesnât suspend negative credit reporting
ultimate guide to coronavirus limited-time promotions for more offers designed to help cardholders maximize rewards amid the coronavirus pandemic.