Yep... There Is A Difference
Imagine this scenario...
You just realized something funny is going on with your credit, and you want to stop anyone from accessing any of your credit records.
You frantically call one of the three major credit bureaus and tell them that you want to ‘Freeze your credit!’
The person on the other line politely asks you if you want to ‘freeze’ or ‘lock’ your credit?
And you have no idea what the difference is or if it matters!
But it does!
This scenario commonly plays out over the phones in the U.S. every day of the week, adding even more anxiety to an already tense moment.
Except, you will know whether you want a credit freeze or lock the next time someone tries to steal your identity.
In two minutes you will know the differences between a Credit Freeze and a Credit Lock, along with when it makes sense to use each option.
The Credit Freeze
Most people do not know that there is a difference between a Credit Lock and a Credit Freeze until they’re asked which option they’d like to pursue to protect themselves.
The term ‘Credit Freeze’ indeed is used interchangeably between the two but they do not mean the same thing.
In 2018, Congress passed a law making all Credit Freeze’s Free.
The ‘Freeze’ does exactly what it sounds like it does; it stops would be criminals from accessing your financial data on your credit report.
However, it can take several days for a Credit Freeze to take place or be removed after filling out the documentation.
Some consumers have reported that it can take as much as five days for the Freeze to go into effect.
Depending on your state and the credit bureau, some Credit Freezes will stay in effect indefinitely while others will fall off your account after seven years.
If you are looking to freeze your credit for something other than a fraudulent activity that requires immediate action, it is a great free option.
A Credit Lock
A Credit Lock effectively does precisely the same thing that a Credit Freeze will do... but faster.
Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian offer separate services that include a Credit Lock feature that can be immediately turned on and off.
To qualify for this locking feature, you must sign up for each credit bureaus special program.
The programs at Equifax and TransUnion that will let you lock and unlock your credit are free.
However, Experian charges $4.99 the first month and $24.99 each month after that, as it is part of their Credit Monitoring Services and Identity Theft Protection package.
The advantage of the Credit Lock is that it can be instantly turned on and off from the credit bureaus phone apps.
Credit Locks will only stay in effect if your subscription to the service remains in effect.
Choosing to lock your credit accounts makes more sense if you suspect fraudulent or criminal activity of your finances because it can be instantaneous.
Here's a great strategy to get an immediate credit lock for the minimal amount of money.
Sign up for Experian's 30 day Credit Lock trial for $4.99. Lock your account and then sign up for a free Credit Freeze with Experian. Once your Freeze is in place (eta 5 days), cancel your Credit Lock service before your 30 day trial.
A great way to keep the total cost very inexpensive is to order the Experian Credit Lock services first.
Once all three credit bureaus have locked your account, then go back and order a credit freeze at Experian.
After you receive confirmation that your credit freeze is in place at Experian, cancel your subscription, so the total cost to is only that initial one month trial of $4.99.
The Absurd Legal Argument For Choosing Credit Freezes Vs. Credit Locks
I’ve read in multiple articles an argument that Credit Freezes should be preferable because they are governed by Federal law and they give a consumer better legal recourse against a credit bureau if their financial information was accessed while a Credit Freeze was in place.
As a longtime practicing attorney, I think this argument is absurd.
The purpose of Credit Locks and Credit Freezes are to freeze your credit account information so no further damage can be done to your credit.
It is counter-intuitive to argue a Credit Freeze is a better choice just because you will have more legal options if the credit bureau screws up and fails to enact your freeze correctly.
This argument should not be a guiding factor in choosing your credit freeze or lock service.
Deciding based on one product over another because there could be a better legal case if it fails, should not be a significant consideration.
You should now be comfortable to decide between a Credit Freeze vs. a Credit Lock if you are faced with such a situation.
Identify if it is an emergency and whether your credit needs to be frozen or locked immediately or if it can wait five days.
If it is an immediate need then choosing a Credit Lock is probably your best bet.
However, if you can wait a few days, then a Credit Freeze will work just fine.
More Keys to the Credit Door:
Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.
Mark B. Huntley, a personal finance writer who has contributed to such publications as Forbes, is a former finance and consumer advocates attorney who lost everything in the real estate crash in the late 2000s. Credit Knocks was inspired by the trials of his credit building experience and the desire to help others understand the easy steps necessary to improve one’s credit score.