Why would you want to lock your credit? A study of 2019 data collected by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gives plenty of reasons. Reports of credit fraud (both the use of existing accounts and opening new ones), exceeded 271,000 in the United States in 2019, while there were over 104,000 reports of loan or lease fraud — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Identity theft and fraud are an ongoing (and growing) problem — but there are ways to protect yourself from paying the price. Let’s see how a credit lock can help.
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The credit reporting basics
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Before we jump into what a credit lock is, let’s start with the basics. There are three credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Each CRA compiles a credit report based on information it compiles itself and the information primarily provided to them by your lenders and creditors — including payment information, account balance, etc. (However, they are not required to report to all three CRAs, so your credit reports may vary.)
This information is then used to calculate your credit scores (you actually have several different credit scores), which helps lenders and creditors decide if they want to provide you with services or products, and at what rate and terms.
When a fraudster or identity thief gains access to your Social Security number, they too can use your credit information to apply for new lines of credit. You may not even realize this has occurred until you are denied credit or offered poor credit terms in the future. This is where a credit lock can be helpful.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.
What is a credit lock?
A credit lock is a security measure you can activate with all three CRAs in order to temporarily prevent creditors from accessing your credit report(s). Without the ability to access your credit information, chances are an identity thief will have a harder time opening accounts in your name. In addition, if an attempt is made to access your reports, you may receive an alert from the CRA receiving the request.
A credit lock does not prevent all credit checks, however. Experian explains there are a number of entities that may still be able to access your credit report:
- Creditors you already have accounts with prior to putting the credit lock in place
- Landlords or rental agencies conducting background checks (with permission)
- Phone companies and utilities
- Debt collection agencies seeking payment
- Child support agencies attempting to set the amount of child support owed
- Lenders and creditors who have already prescreened you for offers
- Loan and insurance underwriters (with permission)
- Potential employers (with permission)
- Government agencies acting on court orders or warrants
Perhaps more importantly, you can always access your own credit while still keeping the credit lock in place.
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How do you lock your credit?
Since each CRA works independently, you would likely need to contact each one separately to put a credit lock in place. In addition, since a credit lock is a service offered directly by each CRA, the cost and coverage varies. Here’s how they each generally work.
Experian Credit Lock: Experian offers a service called Experian CreditLock.
Cost: $4.99 for the first month, $24.99 monthly after that
- Activate and deactivate an Experian credit lock online or from the app.
- Real-time alerts when someone attempts to access your credit.
- Up to $1 million in identity theft coverage with $0 deductible.
- Alert notifications when “key” changes are made to credit reports from any of the three CRAs.
- Access all three credit reports and FICO scores every 30 days.
- View your Experian credit report and see the factors impacting your FICO 8 credit score whenever you want.
- Get help managing identity theft issues from a “Credit and Fraud Resolution Agent.”
TransUnion Credit Lock + Equifax Credit Lock: TransUnion and Equifax have teamed up to offer a service called Credit Lock Plus.
Cost: $24.95 per month
- Activate or deactivate a TransUnion and/or an Equifax credit lock online or from the app.
- Up to $1 million in identity theft insurance
- Instant alerts when someone applies for credit in your name.
- Unlimited access to identity theft specialists.
- Alerts when any “critical” changes are made to any of your three credit reports.
Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.
How to lock your credit report for free
While Experian does not currently offer an option for a free credit lock, both TransUnion and Equifax do. Here’s what they look like.
TransUnion Credit Lock: TransUnion offers a service called TrueIdentity.
- Activate and deactivate a TransUnion credit lock online or from the app.
- Get alerts about “critical credit information changes.”
- Unlimited refreshes to your TransUnion credit report.
- Up to $25,000 in identity theft insurance.
Equifax Credit Lock: Equifax offers a credit lock service called Lock & Alert.
- Activate or deactivate an Equifax credit lock online or from the app.
- Alerts when your credit report is locked or unlocked.
Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.
A few facts before you lock your credit
Before you put a credit lock in place, there are a few things that may be helpful to know.
If you unenroll with the credit lock service you choose, your credit lock will end as well.
Because a credit lock is put in place by enrolling in one of the services discussed above, unenrolling in the service will also lift the credit lock you have in place.
You may not be able to lock your child’s credit.
Equifax, for instance, requires anyone signing up for their Lock & Alert service to be 18 or older and have a credit report –– which many minors do not. (A credit report isn’t created until a person actually applies for, or uses credit as an authorized user, etc.)
A credit lock may not prevent a thief from using your existing accounts.
A credit lock is intended to control who can and can’t pull your report for new credit accounts. This means you will likely still need to keep an eye on existing accounts that could fall into the hands of thieves.
A credit lock can often be lifted quickly.
One upside to a credit lock is how easy it can be to activate and deactivate any lock you put in place. If you choose to apply for new credit, or need to allow access to your credit report to a third party, you can easily lift the credit lock and put it back in place afterwards.
A credit lock is not governed by law.
A credit lock is considered a product offered by CRAs and, according to TheStreet.com, is not overseen by federal law. Therefore, in the fine print of your service agreement the CRA may state they do not guarantee error-free operation or uninterrupted service.
Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.