By Dean Arrindell
As part of legislation signed by President Trump in May, beginning Friday, consumers can now freeze their credit for free.
A credit freeze stops lenders from opening up new credit, which can protect consumers from identity theft.
The new rule came in the aftermath of the Equifax data breach that was revealed last year. That breach compromised credit information of 148 million people — almost half of all Americans — detailing names, birthdates, Social Security numbers and other personal information.
Freezing credit at the three major reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — used to cost $2 to $10, depending on the laws in the state where the consumer lived. Now freezing credit is free nationwide.
However, surveys show that an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t freeze their credit.
How do you freeze your credit? Yahoo News explains.
To freeze their credit, consumers have to contact each credit agency separately. They will get three personal identification numbers, one for each agency.
Some consumer advocates recommend also freezing credit at the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange, which provides credit information to cell phone and utility providers.
Some consumers reported that cell phone accounts were opened in their names even after freezing their credit at the big three agencies.
Credit agencies might have other ways to prevent identity theft, like fraud monitoring alerts, but that doesn’t stop identity theft.
Freezing credit isn’t permanent. To unfreeze credit, consumers must contact each agency individually. Freezing and unfreezing — or a credit “thaw” — doesn’t affect consumers’ credit scores. Both are free and can be done as often as needed.
Another way individuals can protect themselves is to check their credit report every year. Since 2003, consumers have been allowed one free credit report a year from the credit bureaus. You don’t have to unfreeze your credit to get it.
Here’s how to contact the credit reporting agencies:
National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange: www.nctue.com/Consumers