Credit lock vs. credit freeze: What’s the difference?

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Credit lock vs. credit freeze: What's the difference?

Money expert Clark Howard has long been a proponent of credit freezes as the number one way to protect yourself and your finances from criminals. But many companies continue to push credit lock services. So, you may be wondering what the difference between a credit lock and credit freeze is.

The difference between a credit lock and a credit freeze

Despite being similar, a credit lock and credit freeze have some key differences. Let’s talk about some things that distinguish a credit lock from a credit freeze. We’ll also cover how to lock your credit with the three major credit bureaus.

One of the main differences between a credit lock and credit freeze is that the former is most commonly operated by an anti-fraud or other financial service company. It could be a company like LifeLock or an entity like Credit Karma, which recently introduced a beta credit lock program (for TransUnion only).

A credit freeze is typically initiated by the consumer directly with the credit reporting agency. Here’s a side-by-side table of some of the differences between a credit lock and credit freeze:

Credit lock vs. credit freeze: The differences

Credit lock Credit freeze
Prevents others from accessing your credit info Prevents others from accessing your credit info and opening new credit in your name
Costs money with 2 out of the 3 major credit bureaus Free of charge with all 3 bureaus
Programs run by credit bureaus, anti-fraud services Administered by credit bureaus only
Governed by policies of the respective bureaus Governed by federal law
Less time-consuming & easy to install More time consuming; requires three separate PIN numbers
Not clear who is liable for any losses Losses legally protected

A credit lock is a program that consumers can enroll in with each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus. That means Experian, TransUnion and Equifax all have different credit lock programs. The bureaus often bundle these credit locks with other services for a fee.

Let’s look at those credit lock programs to see what they offer:

How to do a credit lock with Experian

Experian offers credit lock bundled with its IdentityWorks Premium service.

Cost: Free for the first 30 days then $19.99 per month thereafter

Experian credit lock features: With an Experian credit lock, you’ll get real-time alerts if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. The service also includes up to $1 million in Identity Theft Insurance. This entails you being “covered for the costs of restoring your identity, like fraudulent electronic fund transfers, lost wages, legal fees and travel expenses,” Experian says on its website. You’ll also get:

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  • Updated FICO scores every 90 days from all three bureaus (daily Experian scores)
  • 24/7 phone support
  • Access to credit alert dashboard
  • To get started fill out this form

How to do a credit lock with TransUnion

TransUnion offers a credit lock bundled with its subscription credit monitoring service.

Cost: $24.95 a month (plus tax where applicable)

The TransUnion Score & Credit Report is a subscription credit monitoring service that comes with a credit lock. You’ll recieve:

  • Your TransUnion credit score
  • Email alerts if someone tries to access your credit file
  • TransUnion and Equifax credit scores
  • Up to $1 million in ID Theft Insurance
  • Debt analysis and credit score trending
  • 24/7 access to ID theft specialists via phone
  • Sign up by filling up this form

How to do a credit lock with Equifax

Equifax’s credit lock product is called Lock & Alert. It is bundled with its subscription credit monitoring service.

Cost: Free

As part of concessions related to the Equifax data breach, the Atlanta-based credit bureau offered a year of free credit monitoring as part of its Trusted ID Premiere service.

The thing is, Trusted ID Premiere ends on January 31, 2019. That means consumers who signed up for the service will need to find new protections. If you signed up for another Equifax credit monitoring service, Trusted ID Premiere was automatically canceled, the bureau has said.

Credit Lock & Alert with Equifax includes the following services:

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Credit lock vs. a credit freeze: Why a credit freeze is better

Clark says a credit freeze is a better option than a credit lock.

“A credit freeze allows you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily ‘thaw’ your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed,” he says. “The added layer of security means that thieves can’t establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.”

Best of all, credit freezes are now free with all three major credit bureaus — no need to pay for the “extras” that come with the bundles mentioned above.

Instead, Clark recommends that you sign up for credit monitoring via Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. It’s 100% free!

Follow these two steps to protect your identity: 

  1. Sign up for an account with CreditKarma.com or CreditSesame.com get free credit monitoring and notifications of suspicious activity
  2. Freeze your credit at all three main credit bureaus.
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