Credit Freeze vs. Lock: What's the Difference and When to Use Them

Written By
Julija A.
July 04,2023

Looking for an easy way to reduce the risk of identity theft or other fraudulent activity on your credit file? Maybe you should consider freezing your credit or locking it. But what exactly is the difference between credit freeze vs. lock?

How To Freeze Your Credit

Before we get down to the difference between a credit lock and a credit freeze, let’s tackle a more basic question first: What is a credit freeze?

You can look at a credit freeze as a tool that helps you prevent any suspicious parties from hijacking your credit history or opening any new accounts for fraudulent purposes. Requesting a freeze with any of the national credit bureaus would block access to your credit file and prevent credit checks that are usually performed when you apply for a new credit card or a loan.

You don’t need to pay to freeze your credit since the service is free, and so is unfreezing it, thanks to the fact that federal laws require each credit bureau to offer these services free of charge.

Note, however, that if you wish to block all access to your credit history, you should request a freeze with each credit reporting agency separately. You are not obliged to do it, but that would definitely be the safest course of action. Once you place a security freeze, the bureau you did it through will provide you with a password or PIN you can use once you decide to remove the credit freeze.

Credit bureaus are obliged by the law to freeze your account within 24 hours of your request, and they have to lift your credit freeze within one hour of receiving your request to unfreeze (thaw) it.

The great thing about a credit freeze is that you’ll still have access to your credit records, and, more importantly, it will not affect your credit score in any way. However, this doesn’t mean your score can’t be affected by other factors while it’s under a freeze.

How Long Does a Credit Freeze Last?

In most states, your credit file will stay frozen until you request a lift on it. In some states, however, the freeze will expire after seven years.

It might take longer to unfreeze a credit than to remove a credit lock. While the lock can be removed immediately, it takes up to three business days for the credit to thaw if you submit your request by mail. That’s why we advise you to make sure you aren’t going to need some instant credit card authorization prior to requesting a freeze since freezing your account will most probably affect it.

How To Put a Lock on Your Credit

The three national credit bureaus offer credit lock services, some free of charge and sometimes for a fee. Just like with the credit freeze, you need to lock your credit with each of the three bureaus separately if you wish to ensure you have the best protection possible.

This is what you need to know if you want to lock your credit:

How Long Does a Credit Lock Last?

Your credit will stay locked with Equifax and TransUnion until you decide to remove the lock. As for Experian, your lock will last as long as your membership. Once you request to unlock your credit, it usually happens instantly. You can do it either online or via phone, and the process is the same with any of the credit bureaus.

Locking your credit will not affect your credit or Fico score, but your credit score can still change even though your credit is locked, so you should always keep an eye on it.

Once you unlock or thaw your credit, we recommend that you find a service that monitors your credit to keep you safe from identity theft.

Difference Between Credit Freeze and Credit Lock

While these two terms sound similar and offer similar protection, they are not exactly the same. The main difference is that a credit lock is much faster to remove, and you can do it yourself, while to unfreeze your credit, you need to make a request to the credit bureau and wait up to an hour.

Credit Lock Credit Freeze
Free with Equifax & TransUnion, but comes with a fee at Experian Free at each bureau
Not regulated by law Regulated by law
Can be removed instantly Takes from one hour (online or by telephone) to three business days (by mail) to be removed

Neither will affect your credit score, but if you are thinking of applying for a loan or a new credit card and are weighing the pros and cons of a credit freeze vs. lock, the second option is probably more convenient.

Other Mechanisms of Protection

A freeze or a lock on your credit can reduce the risk of identity theft, but these are not the only tools you can employ to minimize risk. One possibility is to find a good identity theft protection company and make use of its services.

Another alternative is placing a fraud alert. That way, whenever a creditor receives a credit application in your name, they will be asked to verify your identity before processing the application.

A fraud alert is convenient because once you report it to one of the three agencies, they are obliged to notify the other two. Plus, it’s free and lasts for one year. Credit locks and credit freezes might be more secure tools, but sometimes a fraud alert is enough to protect you.

The Bottom Line

Freezing or locking your credit is the most prudent course of action when you know your data has been stolen or you suspect you’ve become a victim of identity theft. But even when that’s not the case, you should monitor your account regularly, keep your personal information to yourself, and never give more information than necessary. Also, make sure to always have strong passwords in place and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a credit lock the same as a credit freeze?


No, there are some nuances when talking about credit lock vs. credit freeze. The main distinction is that a freeze is always free, while a credit lock might come with a fee. Also, lifting a lock and placing it back again can be done instantly via a smartphone app, while unfreezing might take up to one hour if you submit your request to the credit bureau by telephone or online, and up to three business days if you do it by mail.

Is it better to freeze or lock your credit?


It depends on your needs. If you plan to start a new business or get a loan, freezing your credit is probably not the best option since the lender will have to check your credit history, and it takes a bit more time to lift a freeze than it does to remove a lock.

Is there a downside to freezing your credit?


If you freeze your credit report and then decide to apply for a new credit, you will have to thaw it first. In that case, you’ll have to submit your request to each of the three credit reporting bureaus separately, which can be a time-consuming process.

Does a credit freeze hurt your credit score?


No, so there is no need to worry about that. The only thing you should be careful about is to regularly check your credit score, as it can still change even if your credit is under a freeze. If this is a deciding factor in choosing a credit freeze vs. lock, you should know that neither of those actions can affect your credit score.

About author

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

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