How to Freeze Your Credit at All 3 Bureaus—For Free
If you choose to freeze your credit, you have three options. Learn how to freeze your credit online for free.
By Mike Azzara | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
5 Min Read | November 06, 2019 in Credit Score
Freezing your credit at all three credit bureaus may be tedious, but it isn’t necessarily as hard as you may think.
It can be worth the effort to protect you against identity thieves opening accounts in your name—for which you may be held liable.
You can freeze your credit online, by phone, or through the U.S. mail.
Many people who might otherwise choose a credit freeze hesitate because they don’t know how to freeze their credit at all three credit bureaus. So, they think the process will be a time-sucking morass of bureaucratic red tape—these organizations are called “bureaus,” after all—with a fee to pay at the end of it all.
But if that’s your thinking, the reality of freezing credit reports might just surprise you, based on my experience and an informal survey of my professional associates.
A credit freeze—called a security freeze by credit bureaus—protects you from the cost and disruption that can happen when identity thieves attempt to open new accounts in your name. If you choose to freeze your credit, you have three options. In order of ease and speed, they are: online, on the phone, in the mail (U.S. Postal, not “e”).
I froze my credit online in October 2017, shortly after the Equifax data breach, when the necessary web pages were hard to locate. Now they’re easier to
find—and you can get to the credit freeze pages for all three credit bureaus by clicking these links: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion. These pages provide further links to:
- Start a freeze process,
- Unfreeze credit , or
- Freeze the credit of a child, spouse, or other relative.
You’ll start by filling a form that asks for:
- Your name,
- Social security number (or last four digits), and
- Email address.
- Equifax also asks for your mobile number, and will take an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) as an alternative to the social security number.
- All three bureaus will also want to know how long you’ve lived at your current address—for example, TransUnion asks if it’s more than six months, Experian asks if it’s more than two years.
- TransUnion and Equifax will want you to establish accounts, but Experian freezes and unfreezes credit based on your personal information and PIN.
On the phone, automated systems at all three credit bureaus ask for the same detailed personal information described above.
- Once satisfied that you’re you, they will establish your credit freeze and give you a 10-digit PIN. Safeguard it, since you’ll need it to temporarily lift or permanently remove the freeze by phone or mail.
- It takes more time on the phone to get through the questions and answers for the automated voice response system. Don’t expect to reach a live customer service rep.
- Unfortunately, whether online or by phone, if there are any discrepancies between your personal information and the information in the credit bureau’s database, the system won’t sign you up. Instead, it will tell you to send a written request in the mail.
The numbers to call are:
- Equifax: 1-800-349-9960
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
You’ll need to prepare a fairly thick packet of information including everything mentioned above under How to freeze your credit online. But that’s not all. They’ll also want to see:
- Copies of two forms of identification, one showing your address (such as a driver’s license, state identification card, rental lease, pay stub, or utility bill) and one showing your social security number (your social security card itself, or a tax return, W2, or pay stub that includes the number).
- Equifax has a send-by-mail form that lists all the requirements, with instructions. The others have online instructions, but they all say approximately the same thing.
The addresses for written requests are:
- Equifax: P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA
- Experian: P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion: P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094
I recently conducted an informal survey on credit freezes for an article titled “Should I Freeze my Credit?" One of the things that became clear was that many respondents decided not to do it because of the red tape concern. If I summarize all their reasons, it comes down to the wasted time and aggravation they anticipated.
But most of the 18 respondents to my survey who actually did a credit freeze said it was relatively fast and easy, mirroring my experience. Only a handful reported bureaucratic delays, usually if the credit bureau’s database contained errors, or when attempting to unfreeze their credit (either temporarily or permanently).
And there is no fee at the end. A federal law that went into effect in September 2018 mandates that credit freezes are free.1 If that fact conflicts with something you read elsewhere, consider that many online sources haven’t been updated since the law passed.
Regardless of whether you choose to freeze online, by mail, or by phone, be careful with passwords and PINs! You must preserve passwords and PINs carefully in order to avoid a truly monumental waste of time when you need to unfreeze your credit, which happens from time to time. I unfroze to lease a car. For you, it might be a mortgage, a job application, or a new credit card—many of American life’s major events require a credit check.
So, I have a file cabinet with a hanging folder labeled “Credit Freezes” containing the original printouts from the online sessions in which I froze my credit, stapled into separate bunches for each of the three credit bureaus. My passwords and PINs are documented on those pages. This made temporarily unfreezing credit a breeze for me.