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Bottom Line Up Front

  • Both locking and freezing your credit are effective ways to help you keep fraudsters from opening new accounts in your name.
  • Your credit score won’t be affected by either locking or freezing your credit.
  • The federal government requires that the credit bureaus offer credit freezing and unfreezing for free.

Time to Read

4 minutes

May 16, 2024

Locking and freezing your credit are two ways you can protect yourself against financial fraud. So if your information is ever stolen, it offers an additional layer of protection. Understanding how each works can help you decide which is right for you.

What Are Credit Locking and Freezing and How Are They Different?

Whether you lock or freeze your credit, prospective lenders won’t be able to see your credit report. So, they won’t be able to approve new credit. That means anyone who tries to open new credit in your name will be stopped in their tracks. You’ll still be able to use your existing accounts, like credit cards and lines of credit. And, regardless of which method you choose, your credit score won’t be affected.

Let’s explore the benefits each offers:

  • Credit Locking: This service is offered by credit bureaus and what it includes may vary.  It may also come with a monthly fee, but will allow you to more quickly lock or unlock your credit report through apps or websites. The average time it takes effect ranges from immediately to within 48 hours. It may work well for you if you expect to apply for new credit soon or you apply for credit frequently because unlocking and relocking is fast and easy.
  • Credit Freezing: Federal law requires the major credit bureaus to offer it for free. You’ll have to contact each credit bureau individually and may need a password or PIN for each credit bureau. A freeze/unfreeze can take effect relatively quickly if you do it online, but if you request them by phone or mail, it could take up to 3 business days. This option could be for you if you rarely apply for new credit and want maximum security.

To sum it up, credit freezes provide strong security with clear legal protections and may take longer to take effect, but are free. Credit locks can be more user-friendly, but may not offer the same level of protection and some have a monthly fee. Here’s a side-by-side comparison.

credit locking and credit freezing features
FeatureCredit LockCredit Freeze

Equifax Lock & Alert™ is free 

Experian and TransUnion are fee-based

Completely free (federally mandated)
ConvenienceSimple to unlock and re-lock through apps or websitesMore cumbersome, requiring contact with each bureau and passwords or PINs
TimeLock/unlocking often occurs immediately, but can take up to 48 hoursFreezing/unfreezing can take up to 3 business days
Legal ProtectionsLess clear legal guidelinesStrong legal protections outlined in federal law 
Works well if ...You expect to apply for credit soon or make frequent credit applications You don’t apply for credit very often

How Can You Lock or Freeze Your Credit?

It’s a good practice to lock or freeze your credit in-between opening new accounts. And, it’s relatively easy to do. Here’s a brief overview for each of the major bureaus.

credit locking and credit freezing comparison
Credit BureauCredit LockCredit Freeze
EquifaxYou can sign up for Equifax Lock & AlertTM for free online. Then just sign in and click a button when you want to lock/unlock. Lock & Alert also includes other credit monitoring tools. You can place or manage a freeze for free on the Equifax Security Freeze page. Just follow the simple directions.
ExperianExperian doesn’t offer a free credit lock option. For a monthly fee, you can enroll in their Experian CreditWorksSM Premium program, which includes locking as a feature. To place or lift a lock, you can also call 888-397-3742 as a CreditWorks member.To freeze or unfreeze your Experian credit file, you can sign up for a free Experian account, then freeze and unfreeze anytime. They’ll send you status alerts.
TransUnionTransUnion’s premium subscription, TransUnion Credit Monitoring, allows you to monitor your credit and lock/unlock your credit report when you need to. They’ll also send you an alert whenever there’s a check on your credit report.You can create a free account to get a credit report, manage a credit freeze and more.

In general, a credit lock/freeze stays active until you remove it. Once you lock or freeze your credit report, you’ll have to unlock/unfreeze it with each bureau before applying for new credit. Since it may not take effect immediately, you should plan to do that ahead of time.  

And finally, it’s important to note here that freezing a lost or stolen credit or debit card is different—and is a separate process from locking or freezing your credit. To freeze a credit or debit card that was lost or stolen, contact your financial institution. Navy Federal members can use our mobile app* or online banking to freeze or unfreeze a card in seconds. Or, they can call 1-888-842-6328.

Frequently Asked Questions About Credit Locks and Freezes

Have questions about locking or freezing your credit? You’re not alone—it can be confusing if you’ve never done it before. Here are some questions others have asked.

  • How long does a credit freeze/lock last?

Generally, a credit freeze/lock remains in effect until you remove it. You can undo it temporarily for specific needs like applying for a loan.

  • Can I lock/freeze my child’s credit?

In most cases, yes. Specific requirements and processes may vary depending on the credit bureau and any state requirements. It’s best to contact each bureau directly for details.

  • What if I forget my PIN/password to unlock my credit?

Don’t worry! Each credit bureau has a process in place to recover forgotten credentials. This typically involves security questions you set up during initial enrollment or contacting their customer support for verification.

Key Takeaways Key Takeaways


Equifax and the Equifax marks are trademarks of Equifax Inc. Experian and the Experian products are either trademarks, service marks or registered trademarks of Experian Information Solutions, Inc. or its affiliates. The “T” logo, TransUnion, and other trademarks, service marks, and logos (the “Trademarks”) are registered or unregistered trademarks of TransUnion LLC or their respective owners.

This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.