Should You Freeze Your Credit?
Probably.

A new law makes them free. Here's what you need to know.

How to freeze your credit file for free
How to freeze your credit file for free

Think of these credit freezes as being your own Mr. Robot, keeping your finances out of the wrong kind of hacker's hands.

You probably started hearing about "credit freezes" or "security freezes" after last year's news of a cyber attack on Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit agencies. That massive breach exposed the personal data of nearly 150 million Americans. Which means that roughly half the country's population had such personal information as their Social Security number, birth date and other sensitive details compromised.

After years of high-profile hacking involving popular retailers like Target and The Home Depot, not to mention websites (remember those 3 billion Yahoo accounts?), the Equifax breach proved that consumer's needed more control over their information. The result? The ability to freeze your credit file for no charge, thanks to a new federal law that took effect on September 21.

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Such freezes were once reserved primarily for victims of identity theft. But as the data leaks, breeches and hacks become more common, consumer advocates suggest freezing your files before they're compromised. They believe it's the best way to prevent criminals from using your personal information to open new, fraudulent accounts. You can easily lift a freeze when you need to shop for more credit. Or when you're required to allow access to your credit files for insurance, employment or other financial reasons.

Does it take a little time to free your credit? Sure. But not as much as when your data is compromised. The Federal Trade Commission estimates it takes victims about 30 to 50 hours' worth of phone calls, emails and other persistence to straighten out all the damage. Taking the proactive approach is certainly a smart move.

Start Freezing

Start Freezing

Because creditors may run credit checks with any one of the three major bureaus, you should freeze your credit with all three.

Heads Up: You'll have to supply identifying information such as your Social Security number, birth date and address. Each freeze will provide you with a PIN number that you can use to unfreeze your account if and when you want to apply for credit.

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