Another day, another massive data breach.
Equifax, Capital One, Marriott … the list seems endless. And as more of our personal information is digitized, the risk of it ending up in the wrong hands rises, leaving us increasingly vulnerable to identity theft and trashed credit.
But while the scope of these data breaches can seem overwhelming (1.1 billion identities were exposed in 2016 alone), the reality is that you are not powerless. You can defend yourself, and you don’t have to go off the grid and hide out in a bunker in New Zealand.
One of the most powerful ways to defend yourself is a credit freeze. Setting it up is simple, and best of all, it’s free.
What’s a Credit Freeze?
Credit Sesame defines a credit freeze as “a process which locks down your credit file and prevents identity thieves and cyber criminals from opening credit in your name.”
Basically, access to your credit file is inaccessible to everyone except you.
Creditors, such as banks and credit card companies, ask to see credit report before opening new accounts. Since they won’t be able to see your credit history, they won’t be able to extend you a line of credit. Makes sense, right?
And no, it won’t negatively affect your credit score.
When Should You Freeze Your Credit?
Many people freeze their credit after their identities have been stolen, which is fine.
However, you’re basically in a race against the criminal. Who can get to your credit report first?
Steven Weisman, a Bentley University professor and author of the fraud and identity theft blog Scamicide, suggests freezing your credit now — and always.
He thinks of the tool as a “preventative medicine.”
“This is the single best thing someone can do to protect themselves from being a victim of identity theft,” he says. “Even if your Social Security number was in the hands of an identity thief, you’d still be protected.”
If you’d rather not put your credit on perma-freeze, then you should also consider it under the following circumstances:
You’ve been the victim of a data breach. (At this point, that’s nearly all of us.)
You believe you may have become a victim of identity theft.
You want to protect your child’s credit.
Once your credit is frozen, you will still have access to your credit report, as will current creditors and debt collectors. Employers — both current and potential — have limited access to your credit report, as do some government agencies.
What Does a Credit Freeze Cost?
Credit freezes now cost nothing, thanks to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which became effective in September 2018.
Prior to the law’s passage, credit freezes used to cost between $5 and $15 to set up, with a second charge to unlock the freeze. (Victims of fraud were typically exempt from paying these costs.)
This is the single best thing someone can do to protect themselves from being a victim of identity theft.
The law also allows you to unfreeze and refreeze your credit at any time, at no cost.
How to Freeze Your Credit
It will take a bit of legwork on your part. You’ll need to request a credit freeze from each of the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each bureau has a slightly different process.
1. Contact the Three Major Credit Bureaus
Have information like your Social Security number, birth date and most recent addresses on hand when you make your request. You can freeze your credit by mail, by phone or online.
How to Freeze Your Credit With Equifax
Mail: Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348
How to Freeze Your Credit With Experian
Mail: Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
How to Freeze Your Credit With TransUnion
Mail: TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016
Note: All three credit bureaus say requesting a credit freeze by mail is the slowest method, and so if time is of the essence, you should consider requesting the freeze over the phone or online.
If you do opt to request a credit freeze by mail, make sure to include your full name, date of birth, Social Security number, last two addresses, a clear copy of a government-issued identification card and a clear copy of a utility bill, bank statement or other form of proof of address.
2. Receive Your PIN and Keep It Safe
The credit bureaus will set you up with a PIN, which will allow you to manage your credit freeze.
Once you receive this number, make sure you keep it in a safe place where you can always find it. You will need to use it if you ever need to unfreeze — or “thaw” — your credit, like if you decide to apply for a mortgage or open a new credit card.
3. Manage Your Credit Freeze
Your credit freeze should be active one business day after you make the request online or by phone. (The time frame for mail requests is three days.) You can manage it by logging into the bureau’s site using the credentials you established when you requested the credit freeze. If you want to make any changes via phone or mail, you’ll need to have that PIN on hand.
How to Unfreeze Your Credit
The time may come when you will need to unfreeze your credit — say, to apply for a credit card or shop for a loan. To do so, go to the credit bureau’s website and use the credentials you set up to request the thaw.
The freeze should be lifted within an hour, as required by federal law. (If you choose to request your credit thaw by mail, your wait time will be considerably longer — at least three business days from the receipt of the request.)
You can also request to have the freeze lifted temporarily, which is especially helpful if you are looking to rent an apartment or applying for a job, and then want to go back into lockdown.
If you know which credit bureau your future landlord, creditor or employer will be contacting, you can save yourself some time by requesting the freeze be lifted for only that credit bureau.
Pros and Cons of Credit Freezes
The pros of having your credit frozen are pretty straightforward:
It prevents anyone from opening new accounts in your name.
It won’t affect your credit score.
Best of all, it’s free.
However, there are some possible pain points you should consider before requesting a credit freeze:
Requesting and managing credit freezes through three credit bureaus can be a pain.
You’ll need to lift the freeze if you want to apply for a new credit product.
It doesn’t protect your existing accounts.
FROM THE CREDIT FORUM
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What Else Can You Do to Protect Your Credit?
As we said earlier, a credit freeze can be an incredibly powerful and effective tool to protect your identity and your credit, but you shouldn’t allow it to lull you into a false sense of secur [...]
Since you all loved my list of what NOT to buy at Aldi, I thought it’d be fun to put together a list of what NOT to buy at Dollar Tree!
What You Shouldn’t Buy at Dollar Tree
Wondering what you shouldn’t buy at Dollar? Well, I’ve got you covered in this post!
Now, before you think I’m here to disparage Dollar Tree, let me be clear: Dollar Tree is one of my favorite places to shop at. And I’m thrilled that I passed that love on to my daughter!
I mean, what’s not to love about Dollar Tree? Everything in the store is a dollar or less.
If you’re wondering what I think you should buy at Dollar Tree, be sure to check out my HUGE list of the best things to buy at Dollar Tree.
I go to the Dollar Tree for Valentine’s Day gifts. We have a family Christmas tradition where we all go to Dollar Tree and buy each other stocking stuffers! I even think it’s a great place to save money on groceries!
But just like any other store, there are definitely some things I think you should not purchase at Dollar Tree because they aren’t great deals. I put together a list of my top five things below:
(Psst! Did you see my list of 5 Things You Should Not Buy at Aldi?)
1. Cheap Plastic Toys
Okay, so if you want to buy the cheap plastic toys, you totally can — especially if they will give your kids a lot of enjoyment. (Hey, if a cheap plastic toy for $1 will buy you 30 minutes of peace and quiet, I’m all for that!)
And full disclosure, we have totally have bought the games, puzzles, activity books many times over the years (especially for road trips), but we try to be careful that we’re not buying cheap toys that won’t work and are just going to break in a few minutes.
2. Boxes of Cereal
While they do have name brand cereals, they are small boxes and the price per ounce isn’t a great deal — especially compared to what you’d pay for cereal at Aldi.
3. Mac & Cheese
I’ve told you that my kids are big fans of the boxed Mac & Cheese at Aldi — and it’s less than $0.50 per box! Also, there are often deals on Annie’s Mac & Cheese where you can get it for $1 per box or less!
Looking for a really delicious homemade mac & cheese recipe. I highly recommend this one.
If you don’t have a Kroger or Aldi, the prices on tortilla chips and pretzels could be a good deal for you. The packages are smaller than a typical bag of chips or pretzels at the grocery store. Aldi has the larger bags for $1.19 and Kroger often has larger bags on sale for $1.
5. Hand towels and wash cloths
I had to include these because of all the things you can buy at Dollar Tree these are one of the few things I think you should never buy. Why? Because they are basically scratchy, non-absorbent rags.
I mean, if you want to buy them for rags, be my guest. But I think you’d be better off using leaves off your backyard trees to clean up a mess than these “towels”. 🙂 Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but still, just don’t buy these!
Wait until Kohl’s has a deal and a coupon code, and then spend $1-2 per hand towel and wash cloth to buy something that actually works!
Do you agree with my list? Is there anything you would add to it? I’d love to hear!
My 25 Favorite Things to Buy at Dollar Tree
21 Valentine’s Day Deals at Dollar Tree
23 Stocking Stuffer Ideas from Dollar Tree
My 25 Favorite Things to Buy at Aldi
5 Things You Should NOT Buy at Aldi [...]