Freezing Your Credit

If you've already got a credit card to help establish your credit history, you're not planning on taking out a significant loan in the next few months, and you're not interested in churning, I'd strongly suggest that you freeze your credit.

Once a credit bureau has frozen your credit, that bureau will refuse to release your credit history for the purposes of opening new lines of credit. No one, including you, will be able to register for credit cards or otherwise take out loans in your name. Freezing lasts indefinitely, though you can unfreeze your credit at any time.

Your existing lines of credit won't be affected by a freeze. This only affects new loans.

This is a big protection against identity theft! Since you're probably not frequently opening new lines of credit, freezing your credit mitigates a major security vulnerability with relatively little inconvenience.

How To Freeze Your Credit

You'll need to register a credit freeze with each bureau individually. There are four (one, Innovis, is smaller and often overlooked):

Each bureau will have you verify your identity by answering a series of questions about yourself—information about addresses, employers, and loan payments, usually.

Once you've frozen your credit at a bureau, you'll be given a PIN. This PIN is required to unfreeze your credit, so don't lose it. Keep it in your password manager (you do use a password manager, don't you?), and write it down on paper somewhere safe, too.

Fees for freezing credit vary by state; it's free in some states, but in others you'll pay a one-time fee of $10 per bureau.

What About Fraud Reporting?

Credit bureaus make money in two ways.

The majority of their income is from packaging and reselling your data to advertisers—ever wonder where those credit card pre-approval offers come from? You might be familiar with the adage among advertising-based tech companies that “if you're not the customer, you're the product.” That's the case here, too.

The rest comes from selling you fraud alert subscriptions and other credit monitoring products.

These plans are mostly baloney. They'll alert you when a new line of credit is opened in your name, but they won't prevent it! They'll also usually cost $10–$20 per month.

This is strictly worse that a credit freeze: it costs much more and does less. It's analogous to pointing a security camera at your unlocked front door. Freezing, meanwhile, is like locking the damn door.

Credit bureaus are legally required to let you freeze your credit, but they'll attempt to up-sell you their fraud reporting plans along the way. Ignore them.

Unfreezing Your Credit

If you want to permanently unfreeze your credit, it's just a matter of visiting each bureau's website, entering your PIN, and possibly paying a small fee.

However, you can also temporarily provide access to your credit history. Ask your lender which bureau they'll be using, and request that that bureau temporarily lift your freeze (once again, you'll need your PIN) for the necessary period of time. Once that time has passed, your credit will be automatically frozen again.

Some bureaus can also issue temporary, single-use PINs that you can give to lenders to allow them access to your credit without lifting the freeze.

Creating a mySSA Account

The Social Security Administration maintains a history of your taxable income, a record of your future Social Security benefits, and other sensitive financial information.

You should create a mySSA account. It's free and easy, and provides you with access to that information.

Creating a mySSA account also ensures that no one else can create one in your name. An attacker with enough of your personal information can create a mySSA account in your name. Prevent that.

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