In a lot of ways, good credit is a necessity. Whether you want to buy a home or car or simply just have a bit more financial freedom, a poor credit rating can make life significantly more difficult.
There are a good many reasons why your credit may go down the tubes, and in fact some might be your fault. There is also the possibility that someone will steal your identity or hack into your accounts.
Whatever the reason, anything that can help us keep our credit on the right track is a good thing, and when the help comes for free it's even better.
Do you know how to freeze your credit? You will
You may not have thought about freezing your credit, and now that you heard of the idea you may be wondering why you should. Well, it is one of the top ways to guard against identity theft, ensuring there will be no change to any of it unless you say so.
In order to freeze your credit in a meaningful way, you will need to do so with each of the three major credit reporting agencies, which are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
What a credit freeze can and can't do
- A credit freeze will prevent you from opening new credit accounts.
- A credit freeze will not affect your credit score.
- Although it keeps criminals from creating new accounts under your name, a credit freeze won't stop them from charging your existing accounts. Continue monitoring your accounts for fraud.
- You, your current creditors and their collection agents can still access your credit reports.
- You can temporarily lift a credit freeze for specific parties like potential landlords or employers. Lifting and reinstating a credit freeze often requires additional fees.
- You can still get your free annual credit reports even when a credit freeze is in effect.
- Court orders, subpoenas, and search warrants may still grant government agencies access to your credit reports.
Got all that? Good. So, how do you do it?
Go online to www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/ but, when you do, understand the site has an incredibly high amount of traffic so your request may not work right away. If it doesn't, try again the next day.
If you want to do it by phone, call 1-800-685-1111 (if you are a New York resident, the number is 1-800-349-9960). You can also make it happen by mail, sending your request to:
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
The website you want to visit is www.experian.com/ncaonline/freeze, which is where you will enter information like your name, address, social security number and date of birth. You will also need to enter your PIN.
To make the request by phone, call up 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742) and when you do, press 2 before following the prompts to get your freeze. If you want to make the request by mail, send your request to:
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
For them, the site to go to is www.transunion.com/credit-freeze, which is where you will find a page that details what you can do and how you can go about doing it. You can also call them at 1-888-909-8872 to make the freeze happen.
If you'd like to make your request by mail, send it to:
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Sending a letter? Make sure it has this information
While you will need to send a letter to each of the three companies, the information they will be looking for is the same across the board. What will you need to submit?
Not only the date, but your name, current address, previous address (if you lived anywhere else within the last five years), home phone number, social security number and copies of documents that would prove your identity, such as a passport or driver's license.
A recent copy of your utility bill or something that would further confirm your address would help, too.
Once it's frozen, your credit can be thawed
If you get to a point where you are ready for your credit to move again, you will need to go to the websites for each of the reporting agencies and go through a process. It's not unlike what it took to freeze the credit, but unlike the initial freeze, may cost a small fee to process.
Worried about a breach? You can also freeze your bank account
If it seems like you are always reading about data breaches, that's because they seem to happen often. There are a handful of things you can do to try to protect your account, including the establishment of two-factor authentication.
If a site asks you to to provide more than just a username and password, consider it to be a good thing. For more on that and other tips to protect your account in the wake of a data breach, tap or click here.
Another thing before you go
Now's a good time to know your current credit score. We have the steps you need to do this in the free tip below. Do it now while you're thinking of it. Tap or click here to get your credit score for free.
Want to detect network intrustions? This free software will do it
As some of the recent data breaches at big companies can tell you, hacks, phishing (being goaded into clicking a link that gives a hacker access to your computer), viruses and malware can be absolutely devastating to a computer system. Sensitive information can fall into the wrong hands because of those tricks. Tap or click here for some software that will help prevent that from happening.