A credit freeze and a credit lock are two ways to protect your credit reports from being used by scammers to open new accounts.
You may see the terms “credit freeze” and “credit lock” used interchangeably; indeed, they offer similar protections. A key difference is that it’s simpler to unlock a credit lock than it is to “thaw” a credit freeze. But a freeze may afford legal protections that a lock doesn’t.
When you freeze your credit at the three credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — you restrict access to your credit report so most lenders can’t see your information until you unfreeze it. Since a creditor is unlikely to open a new account in your name without checking your credit, that protects you from fraudulent accounts. Unfreezing your report requires the use of a password-protected account or a PIN.
Similarly, when you lock your credit, you restrict most lenders’ access. But you can unlock your credit report immediately at any time, on your computer or mobile device, when you do want to allow access.
The credit bureaus sometimes promote their credit lock services, which can carry a monthly fee, alongside their credit freeze options, which are free.
When to use a credit freeze
A credit freeze helps protect your credit report. It’s a smart option if you’re a victim of identity theft or believe your information has been compromised, as happened in the Equifax breach. NerdWallet recommends freezes for most consumers as a preventive measure.
Federal law requires credit bureaus to offer free credit freezes and unfreezes.
You can thaw your credit report by giving direct authorization to each of the credit bureaus, through a password-protected account or PIN.
When to use a credit lock
You can use a credit lock as a preventive measure to protect your information or when your information has been compromised. Its convenience lets you quickly allow lenders access to your report and then immediately lock it again — if you’re shopping for a home or car, for instance.