The Pros & Cons of Freezing Your Credit Report: Is It Worth It?

If I had a nickel for every person who has ever questioned my decision to openly share multiple details of my personal finances on this blog — especially considering its eponymous title — I’d be about $3.65 richer right now.

Usually, most people warn me that my openness makes me vulnerable to identity theft. They’re right to express concern. After all, once an identity thief gets hold of your name, social security number, address and date of birth, they’ve essentially got the keys to your credit castle.

Still, I manage to sleep like a baby every night because I have a security freeze on my credit files at the three major credit reporting companies: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. By doing so, I’ve essentially made my credit impervious to attack from would-be identity thieves.

You can freeze your credit too by simply going to each of the credit reporting company websites and making an online request.

Unlike a fraud alert — which offers very little consumer protection because lenders and retailers are not legally bound by them — a credit freeze locks up your credit files so that nobody can open up a new account or get a loan in your name. And when I say “nobody,” I mean nobody — not even you.

Another bit of good news is that a credit freeze doesn’t adversely affect your credit score either.

Of course, in exchange for the security that comes with freezing your credit report, you have to be willing to put up with several drawbacks. Here are the ones that cause the most consternation:

1. They’re inconvenient. A frozen credit report not only makes it impossible to open up new lines of credit, or take out a loan, but you also prevent yourself from getting anything else that may require a credit check. This includes things like insurance, utility service, or even a new job. Sometimes it happens for things you’d never expect. For example, earlier this year, I had to temporarily lift my credit freeze for a couple days in order to renew a security clearance that I need for my job.

2. They cost money. On average, each of the three major reporting agencies charge $10 to place a security freeze on your credit report and another $10 each time you choose to temporarily remove it — although identity theft victims can often get the fees waived. So if you expect you’ll need a credit check for any reason in the near future, you may want to think twice before implementing one.

3. They can’t stop thieves from making charges to existing credit card accounts. Nope. An identity thief who manages to get hold of your existing credit card numbers will still be able to charge items to those cards. So keep your paper shredder.

4. They won’t stop pre-approved credit card offers. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to stop junk mail, a credit freeze won’t be able to help you.

In my case, none of these drawbacks outweigh the peace of mind that comes with knowing my credit can’t be hijacked by an identity thief.

Not by a long shot.

Yes, on a couple of occasions it’s been mildly inconvenient, but not so much so that I’ve ever had any regrets.

Photo Credit: William Warby

Comments

  1. 1

    mick Gavor says

    I got freezes after I lost my driver’s license in Las Vegas. Except for the minor cost for a temp lift for my mortgage re-finance, the freeze hasn’t been a problem and the peace-of-mind is worth it.

  2. 3

    says

    I’ve considered it a few times, but decided against it. I still anticipate needing a mortgage refi at some point soon, so I didn’t feel like freezing and unfreezing. At some point though I might do it – whenever I don’t anticipate “needing” credit any more.

  3. 4

    says

    Len, Using “eponymous” pretty good for an engineer.

    And about that security clearance, I guess they forgot to interview me, you might be staying home with the Honeybee….(she would probably shoot me!)

    When you “lift” your block, do you have to talk, email each agency? How long does it take and what’s the process?

    • 5

      Entity325 says

      Dood, an extravagant vocabulary is one of the perks of being an engineer. Using it properly shows that one is a GOOD engineer.

      • 6

        Len Penzo says

        Aww, thanks for that Entity. I’ll try to tell that to my boss, but he probably won’t buy it if it means he has to pay me more money. ;-)

    • 7

      Len Penzo says

      Yes, you have to lift your credit freeze with each company separately, Dr. Dean. That has its own pros and cons. The advantage is that sometimes you don’t need to always lift the freeze with all three companies — and that saves you money. For example, I recently applied for a new credit card; thankfully, they only needed me to lift my freeze with one credit reporting agency, so I only spent $10. Then again, there are other times — like for my security clearance review — where I needed to unlock all three reports.

  4. 8

    Stogies-N-Macs says

    Len, This sounds like good advice. Along with Dr Dean’s questions I have one. If you freeze your credit report will your credit rate rise or fall when we pay our obligations?

    • 9

      Len Penzo says

      Your credit freeze has no effect on your credit score. Creditors continue to send reports — both good and bad — to all three reporting agencies and they are used to update your credit score. If you pay your obligations on time, I would expect your score to increase over time, just as it would if you didn’t have a freeze.

  5. 10

    says

    Hey Len, I was victim of fraud a few years ago so I got a free freeze. It definitely helps me sleep better at night.

    But you’re right it is a pain to have to call in and get the freeze lifted when you want a new loan….especially if you don’t know which of the three agencies the lender will be using (and sometimes they have a hard time telling you). All in all it’s worth the extra hassle though.

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      You can also lift your freeze online. You can use a pin number the reporting agencies give you and do it without the need to make a phone call.

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