Credit Lock vs. Credit Freeze: Marking the Differences

  • Blog
  • Credit Lock vs. Credit Freeze: Marking the Differences
18 Apr, 2024
Daniel Cohen
10 min
255
Blue, red and gold credit cards on the lock laying near keyboard

Credit freeze or credit lock? Know the difference and why it matters. Consumer Attorneys examines both options.

You want to rely on financial systems. But with the constant threats of identity theft and consumer fraud - you also want to be proactive. We represent thousands of consumers dealing with credit issues, so we know how devastating erroneous credit reports can be. Here, we examine two avenues of credit protection - the credit freeze and the credit lock.

There are times when it becomes necessary to block access to your credit reports. Typically, those times are when you suspect some threat to your credit, usually some kind of consumer fraud or identity theft. There are two main ways to do this: the credit freeze and the credit lock. In this article, we discuss each, identify the differences, and provide guidance on which one is best for you. 

Every situation is different. If you have specific questions or have been damaged by a credit reporting agency’s mishandling of a credit freeze or credit lock, contact an identity theft defense lawyer. They can assess your situation and help you decide: credit lock vs credit freeze?

Highlights

Both a credit freeze and a credit lock exist to protect you, the consumer. One is free and exists because federal lawmakers identified the need for a consumer protection mechanism and did something about it. The other is typically a feature of a credit reporting agency and, therefore, costs something. 

What is a Security Freeze?

A credit security freeze, also known simply as a credit freeze, is a consumer protection measure that allows individuals to restrict access to their credit reports. It's an effective tool to prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. When your credit report is frozen, creditors, who usually check your report before opening a new account, cannot access it unless you lift the freeze temporarily or permanently.

How to Freeze Credit

A credit freeze is free and is initiated on the websites of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While you can also initiate a freeze on the phone and via U.S. mail, circumstances often require an immediate freeze, and online freezes provide the best avenue to an immediate freeze. 

To place a freeze, you will need to provide your personal information, such as your name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number. You will need to do this for each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Once activated, a freeze does not affect your credit score, nor does it prevent you from getting a free report or stop you from opening a new account yourself. However, you'll need to plan ahead and lift the freeze using a PIN or password before applying for new credit.

You can lift a credit freeze temporarily or permanently. 

While a credit freeze offers strong protection against fraud, it also requires more effort to manage. Lifting a freeze, whether temporarily or permanently, may take a few minutes to a few days. It’s a great defense if you are very concerned about identity theft and fraud, especially if you don't anticipate needing new lines of credit frequently or applying for a loan in the immediate future. 

When to Unfreeze Your Credit

You likely had your credit frozen due to some concern or suspicion that you were the target of some kind of identity theft or consumer fraud. Now you have to decide when to unfreeze your credit. It’s important to note that you can lift the freeze temporarily or permanently. 

You should unfreeze your credit when the threat to your credit dissipates. The most common reason to unfreeze your credit is to apply for new credit, such as a mortgage, car loan, or credit card. Lenders need to access your credit report to assess your creditworthiness, and a freeze prevents them from doing so. Planning is crucial, as unfreezing can take from a few minutes to a few days.

Other situations where unfreezing your credit might be necessary include applying for a job, renting an apartment, or setting up utility services, where credit checks are often part of the process. Some employers, especially in the financial sector, check credit reports as part of their background checks. Landlords and utility companies similarly review credit history to evaluate payment reliability.

Whenever your credit report needs to be accessed for legitimate purposes, and you've ensured the requester's authenticity, unfreezing your credit will be necessary. You must balance between maintaining security against identity theft and facilitating the necessary credit-related processes of life.

What is a Credit Lock?

Security freeze sounds pretty good. So what is a credit lock? And how to decide between a security freeze vs credit lock? A credit lock is a mechanism offered by some credit reporting companies by which consumers can protect themselves from identity theft and credit fraud. Just like a freeze, a credit lock gives you power over who sees your credit reports. A credit lock is particularly useful in preventing consumer fraud criminals from opening new accounts in your name, as creditors typically check your credit report before approving new credit applications.

The mechanism of a credit lock is just like a freeze: when you lock your credit report, lenders and other entities cannot access your credit information without your permission. This makes it very difficult for identity thieves to misuse your personal information to open unauthorized accounts. To lock or unlock your credit report, you usually use a secure app or website, which makes the process quick and user-friendly. This ease of controlling access to your credit report is a key advantage of a credit lock over a credit freeze. Recall credit freezes require a PIN. 

There will likely be costs with maintaining a credit lock. Credit locks are often offered with other packages from credit reporting companies and frequently come with additional features, such as real-time alerts if someone attempts to access your credit file or if there are significant changes to your credit report. These features provide an extra level of security and peace of mind. 

Also, unlike credit freezes, which are legislated and regulated, credit locks are based on an agreement between the consumer and the credit reporting agency or service provider. This means the terms and conditions, as well as the protections offered by a credit lock, will vary from one provider to another.

Who Can Still See Your Credit Report When It’s Locked: Exceptions

Even when your credit report is locked, there are specific entities and situations where access to your credit report is still permitted, forming exceptions to the lock. These include:

  • Existing creditors or debt collectors. Companies with whom you already have a credit account or debt may still access your credit report. This is essential for them to manage and review your existing account.
  • Government agencies. In certain cases, government entities may access your report for collecting child support payments or taxes or for investigating a court order or subpoena.
  • Your own requests: You can always access your own credit report. This ensures that you can check your credit status and monitor for any discrepancies or fraud.
  • Pre-approved credit offers: Companies can still access your report for pre-approved credit or insurance offers unless you opt out of such offers.
  • Employers or potential employers. However, this is only with your explicit consent, typically for employment verification or background checks.

Understanding these exceptions is crucial as they illustrate that a credit lock, while robust, is not an absolute barrier to accessing your credit report.

Comparison: Credit Lock and Credit Freeze

A credit lock and a credit freeze are both tools you can use to protect your credit report from unauthorized access. Each has distinct activation procedures, legal consequences, and features. So, credit lock vs credit freeze, what’s the difference? And what’s the difference between credit report lock vs credit freeze? Which one is best for you? We’ve prepared this chart to assist you.

FeatureCredit FreezeCredit Lock
DefinitionA restriction placed with a credit reporting agency that prevents others from accessing your credit report.An agreement with a credit reporting agency or service provider to restrict access to your credit report.
How Consumers ManageManaged online, by phone, or by U.S. mail through a formal process with each of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). Often requires a PIN or password.Managed through a mobile app or online with the credit bureau or the service provider.
Legal RegulationGoverned by federal law (the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act).Governed by the terms of the agreement with the credit reporting agency and not regulated by federal law.
Cost?Usually free.Likely part of a subscription service with a fee. 
Ease of Activation and RemovalYou have to go to the website of each credit reporting bureau and initiate. Each will send you a PIN to reactivate. By law, reactivation must be done within one hour if done online. You can activate and remove it almost instantly, usually with a click or swipe on a credit reporting agency app. 
Affect on Credit Score?No direct impact on credit score.No direct impact on credit score.
Accessibility for New CreditMust be temporarily lifted for credit applications, which can be cumbersome.Easily and quickly lifted for credit applications.
Additional FeaturesGenerally, no additional features.Often includes additional features like credit monitoring, alerts for attempts to access your credit report, etc.
Ideal ForPeople who want a free, legally protected way to secure their credit report, especially if they don't need frequent access to new credit.Those who prefer convenience and may need to frequently lock and unlock their credit, often bundled with other credit protection services.

Lawyers for consumer protection can provide tailored advice about both of these and help you if you have been the victim of consumer fraud, identity theft, or a consumer credit company’s mistake regarding either.

Which Choice is Better for You

Credit lock vs credit freeze. Note the differences in the chart above. Both a credit freeze and a credit lock serve the similar purpose of protecting your credit from unauthorized access. They differ significantly in terms of management, legal authority, cost, and additional features. The choice between the two depends on your individual needs for convenience, frequency of accessing new credit, and desire for additional credit monitoring services.

Contact Us

Call Consumer Attorneys if you have any questions about credit locks or credit freezes or if you have any problems with credit reporting in general. We can help you fix issues with your credit report, decide between credit freeze vs lock, and also make sure your rights to sue are preserved should we discover damage to your financial health. 

Contact us by:

Unlike other attorneys, consumer protection is 100% of our practice. We have helped thousands of people recover from credit bureau mistakes and reporting errors. 

Share

Frequently Asked Questions

Daniel Cohen is the Founding Partner of Consumer Attorneys
About the author
Daniel Cohen
See more post

Daniel Cohen is the Founder of Consumer Attorneys. Daniel manages the firm’s branding, marketing, client intake and business development efforts. Since 2017, he is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the National Consumer Law Center. Mr. Cohen is a nationally-recognized practitioner of consumer protection law. He has a wealth of proven legal experience in the US in: collective claims, representing visually impaired people who believe their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been violated in both the physical and digital environments, corporate governance and dispute resolution. Read more

Contact Us

Attorney Advertising, Prior Results Do Not Guarantee A Similar Outcome. This website is for informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice. Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances.

© 2024 Consumer Attorneys PLC. All Rights Reserved.