How Can You Protect Your Credit?
Freezing your credit
A credit freeze (or security freeze) is a free way to limit who can see your credit report. If you’re worried about someone using your credit without permission — like an identity thief or a hacker after a data breach, you might want to place a freeze on your credit report. A freeze makes it harder for someone else to open new accounts in your name. You’ll also need to temporarily lift the freeze if you apply for credit since many banks and lenders do a credit check before approving new accounts.
Some things to keep in mind about credit freezes:
- A credit freeze does not affect your credit score.
- With a credit freeze in place, you can still
- get your free annual credit report
- open a new account. To open one, lift the freeze temporarily. It’s free to lift the freeze. You can place it again when you no longer need lenders to see your credit.
- apply for a job, rent an apartment, or buy insurance. The freeze doesn’t apply to these actions, so you don’t need to lift it.
TIP: Even with a credit freeze, a thief can make changes to your existing accounts. You still need to monitor your bank, credit card, and insurance statements for charges or changes you didn’t authorize.
To place a free credit freeze on your credit report, contact each of the three nationwide credit bureaus:
If you ask for a freeze online or by phone, the credit bureaus must place the freeze within one business day. They also have to lift the freeze within one hour. If you request by mail, the credit bureau must place or lift the freeze within three business days. Remember that you have to contact all three bureaus. For more on credit, read What to Know About Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts.
Monitor your credit report
Because your credit report affects your ability to get loans, jobs, apartments, and more, you want to make sure there aren’t mistakes and that no one has been misusing your personal information. You can do this in several ways:
- Monitor your credit report yourself for free. Request your free credit report and review it to make sure there are no problems or mistakes. Look for things like
- someone else’s information in your report
- information about you from a long time ago (significantly more than seven years ago)
- information about your payment history or accounts that are wrong
- accounts that you didn’t open yourself — a sign that someone may have stolen your identity
If you find something on your credit report that shouldn’t be there, take steps to fix it. See the section below, “Fixing mistakes in your credit report.”
- Accept free credit monitoring offered to you after a data breach. If a data breach exposes your information, many companies will offer to provide you with credit monitoring. You could take advantage of it. It is an opportunity to get free help watching your credit report and making sure nobody is misusing your personal information. For more information on what to do if your information was exposed in a data breach, go to IdentityTheft.gov/Data Breach.
- Active-duty military and members of the National Guard can get free electronic credit monitoring. To sign up, contact the credit bureaus.
- Pay for a credit monitoring service. These services usually charge a monthly or annual fee. They keep an eye on your credit report for you and let you know if they see anything suspicious. Before you consider paying for these services, remember that you can monitor your credit by obtaining your free credit reports, and you have the right to freeze your credit.
TIP: Whether you monitor your credit yourself, get free credit monitoring, or pay a company, it’s essential to check in regularly to avoid surprises. Find out more about credit monitoring in What to Know About Identity Theft.
Fixing mistakes in your credit report
The information in your credit report affects your ability to get a loan, an apartment, and many other essential things in your life. You want to make sure that what’s on your report is correct. If you find mistakes on your credit report, the credit bureau and the person, company, or organization that put the wrong information there are responsible for correcting it. But there are steps you need to take first:
- If your credit report has mistakes, but you haven’t experienced identity theft: First, tell the credit bureau, in writing, what information you think is inaccurate. Include copies of documents that support your position. The credit bureau must investigate your claim. It also has to contact the business that put the information on your report. (For example, if that wrong information has to do with your cell phone bill, the credit bureau will contact your phone company.) If that company finds that the information was, in fact, inaccurate, it must tell all three credit bureaus to correct your file.
Second, contact the company that reported the wrong information to the credit bureau. Do this in writing. Tell them that you’re disputing an item in your credit report. Get more details and sample dispute letters.
- If your credit report has errors due to identity theft: You can block those charges from appearing on your credit report. Start at IdentityTheft.gov, an FTC website that will give you a personal recovery plan that walks through each step. It will also give you an Identity Theft Report that you can use to show that debts coming from identity theft are not yours.