The Equifax breach in early September, though not the largest data breach in history, spooked me like no other data breach has. Target, EBay, Sony, all of these data hacks I watched come and go, changing little about my every day actions. Equifax, however, just feels different. Maybe because it’s the ground zero of credit, or maybe because it has much more information about me than any other company would have (except maybe Amazon?). After talking with a few family members, I decided to freeze my wife and my credit.
What is a credit freeze?
According to the FTC’s website, a credit freeze restricts access to your credit report only to your existing creditors and certain government agencies. Because creditors won’t issue new accounts without seeing your credit report first, restricted access makes it very difficult for thieves to use your credit information to open accounts in your name.
How do I freeze and unfreeze my credit?
The top three credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion allow you to freeze your credit both online and over the phone. For me, there’s something not quite right about using the internet to submit detailed information about myself right after a data hack, so I opted for the phone options. Here are the numbers for the 3 credit agencies:
Equifax – 1-800-349-9960
Experian – 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion – 1-888-909-8872
When you freeze your credit, the credit agencies will either provide you or ask you to submit your own PIN. Write this PIN down and store it in a safe place, because you NEED it to unfreeze your credit in case you ever want a new credit card, car loan, or mortgage. To unfreeze your account, simply call the same numbers provided above and use your PIN to unfreeze, either temporarily or permanently, your credit account.
How much does it cost?
Unfortunately, doing this does cost a little bit of money (except at Equifax, for obvious PR reasons). It does vary a little bit by state, but fortunately for you, Washington, DC (my home state) is the most expensive place to freeze your credit (along with about 25 other states). Therefore, freezing your credit will not cost any more than it cost me. I mentioned at Equifax was free, but Experian and TransUnion each cost $10 per account. TransUnion applied a tax (~$0.50), while Experian didn’t, so the total cost to freeze both of our credit accounts was ~$42.
How to monitor your credit?
By law, each credit agency has to provide you with a credit report once a year. However, there are other ways available for you to continuously monitor your credit. I use two ways to monitor mine. The first is with Credit Karma. This totally free website provides you with credit scores from 2 of the 3 companies (TransUnion and Equifax), as well as advice and guidance on how to improve your credit. It’s a pretty awesome service, made even better by being free. The company makes money by marketing specific credit cards to you that fit your credit profile, so as long as you’re relatively immune to advertising, it won’t cost you a dime.
The second approach I use is through my Capital One Savings Accounts. Through Capital One’s Credit Wise, which you have access to with a Capital One savings account, you can see your credit report as provided by TransUnion. This service breaks down your credit score into the 6 drivers of your score, and how you perform on each. It also has a simulator to show how different credit activities, like applying for a loan or opening a new credit card will impact your score. Additionally, you can track how your score has changed over time with it’s history tracker.
*To open your Capital One account and help support this blog, click here.
Having your identity stolen is a pretty scary thing. Hopefully you are taking the appropriate steps to protect yourself.