Freezing Your Credit: The Emergency Stop Button

Let’s envision the nightmare scenario: your ID has been stolen, and the thieves are opening credit card accounts as fast as the banks will let them. What happens? Should you just file a police report and accept the fallout?

Of course not. If all else fails and your credit is out of your control, you can ask the three credit reporting agencies to freeze your credit history.

What does it do? The freeze keeps your file from being seen by creditors. When they request a copy of your report from a reporting agency, they receive a message indicating that your history has been frozen.

This means that no new accounts can be opened, and thieves are stuck with a dead identity.

How do I do it? You need to contact all three agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) to fully freeze your credit. You can either do this online, or by mail. The state of New Jersey provides their addresses here.

Be sure to have all the required information ready. Your credit will be frozen no later than five days after you make your request.

You definitely should freeze your credit if your ID is stolen. In that case, the freezes are free. You can also freeze your credit if you suspect that your personal data is at risk, but this requires a small fee— $10 per bureau at most.

Does it affect my credit score? Not at all.

But what if I need to get a loan? You can temporarily lift the freeze by writing the credit reporting agencies again. The agency will send you a special PIN that provides access to your account. This process costs no more than $10 per bureau.

Sounds cool, but there’s got to be a downside. If your ID has been stolen, a credit freeze will essentially deactivate your ID, and thus discourage thieves. No downside there.

However, if others need near continuous access to your credit reports (if you’re applying for jobs, colleges, mortgages, etc.) the costs of constantly thawing and freezing will outweigh the benefits. If you suspect shenanigans, place a fraud alert on your accounts instead.

Alexander Carl

Alexander Carl

I find it difficult to brag about myself. Too modest? Perhaps.

Anyway: my name is Alexander Carl. I am a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I spent four blissful years earning a degree in Communication Studies. Now I face the real world of economic downturns, student loans, and the absence of “academic” camaraderie.

Yet I refuse to be bummed. My economic philosophy is to live simply, save, and maximize whatever I can. Consumer culture is undeniably pervasive, but you don’t have to sell your soul to co-exist with it— there is great power from using your economic resources wisely.

I started writing when I figured out how to hold a pencil. Since then I’ve written short stories, poetry, screenplays, and have blogged. In fact, three of my screenplays have been produced into short films, two of which I directed. I’m no stranger to the media, having served as a DJ at a freeform radio station and worked as a crew member for live TV.

Pastimes include traveling (I’ll visit virtually anywhere), swimming, jogging, hiking, and hunkering down with a good movie.

Overall I’m a peaceful person, though not in a creepy New Agey way. I get my energy from music, good conversation, and the outdoors (I was an active Boy Scout, earning my Eagle). I consider myself “inquisitive” and “wry”, and for the sake of autobiography I’ll assume that I am.
Alexander Carl

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