A credit freeze and a credit lock both make it harder for criminals to access your credit, but there are key differences between the two. Freezing your credit is free and may offer stronger legal protections, but doing so may involve setting up an account and obtaining a PIN from each bureau. It’s simpler to lock and unlock your credit and you can do so instantly, but you may have to pay a fee.

Recovering from identity theft can be challenging. There are reports to create, disputes to file, and institutions to notify. The good news is there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming a victim. 

One of the most effective ways is to utilize a credit freeze or a credit lock. While each option makes it harder for criminals to access your credit, there are some differences between the two.

Differences between a credit freeze and a credit lock

A credit freeze may offer stronger protection than a credit lock. This means you’re not financially responsible if someone exploits your credit during the freeze. And under a federal law passed in 2018, credit bureaus are required to let you freeze and unfreeze your credit free of charge.

A credit lock is simply an agreement between you and a credit bureau to pause any new accounts in your name. Since credit locks are a voluntary feature, bureaus aren’t legally required to make good on any losses, and you may have to pay a fee. 

While it’s true you can lock and unlock your credit in an instant, it doesn’t take much longer to thaw your credit. In fact, credit bureaus are required to unfreeze an account within an hour of receiving the request.

How do I freeze or lock my credit?

Consumers can ask for a credit freeze at all three major credit bureaus, either online or by phone.

To begin the process, you’ll need to provide some personal information to set up an account and obtain a PIN. Remember to keep PINs on file for when you’re ready to unfreeze.

Here’s how to get started with each bureau:

Following these same steps, parents, guardians, and those with power of attorney can obtain a freeze for their dependents.

Locking your credit 

If you’re an Allstate Identity Protection member, you can visit the portal today to lock your TransUnion credit report.

Otherwise, you can apply for credit locks in the following ways:

Note: Credit locks are not generally available for children under the age of 18.

How do I lift a credit lock or freeze?

There are times when you’ll need to thaw your credit, like when you’re planning to open a new credit card or buy a car. If your credit file is under a security freeze, you can request an unfreeze at the above links. Just make sure to have your PINs handy.

If your credit file is locked, you can unlock it instantly. To do so, simply visit the app or website you used to place the lock and swipe or tap to remove the hold.

Once your transaction is complete, you can freeze or lock your credit again.