Contributed by: Melissa Parkins, CFP®
Some 9 million Americans are victims to identity theft every year. Anyone who has ever had their identity compromised knows how frustrating it can be to fix – trust me, I know from the experience. Last year, I wrote about how to check your credit report and what to do if you see something unusual. As you may know, you are entitled to pull your full credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus once per year at no charge; but what about the remaining 364 days a year (or 365, in 2016’s case)? Chances are you won’t realize that your identity has been compromised until you check your credit report once a year OR you go to apply for a new line of credit and are denied because your score has plummeted. What’s worse is that when you do not catch it right away, it becomes more and more difficult to fix.
So what else can you do to protect yourself?
You can actually block access to your credit report information with a “credit security freeze.” To do this, you contact the three major credit bureaus and instruct them to prohibit new creditors from viewing your credit report and score. Companies with whom you currently have existing accounts with will still be able to access your credit information. You can set up a freeze on your credit information even if you haven’t experienced any fraudulent activity before. A credit security freeze can increase the likelihood of catching identity thieves before they can open new accounts in your name.
How do you do this, and what are the fees?
To freeze your credit reports, you must contact each of the three credit bureaus individually. This can be done online here: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Fees and filing requirements vary according to state law.
- In Michigan, The fee to freeze your credit report is $10 for each credit agency you decide to do this with – so $30 total if you freeze your credit with each bureau.
- Once you have frozen your credit report, it can be lifted at any time. In Michigan, it is another fee of $10 to permanently remove the credit freeze.
- You can also have the freeze temporarily lifted for a specific period of time or for a specific party (specific party lift is not available in Michigan, but it is in some states). For instance, if you were to start a new job or open up a new line of credit and that company needed access to your credit report, you would need to temporarily lift your freeze. Again, in Michigan it would be a $10 fee for a specific date range lift.
- If you are a past victim of identity theft, the fees are waived (must provide a copy of a valid complaint filed with law enforcement or a police report), so you can freeze your credit and utilize the temporary lifting at any time for no cost.
Who should freeze their credit reports?
As you can see, all of the fees can really add up. So if you are planning any action that requires a credit check, you may want to delay setting up a freeze. Some actions that would require a credit check are things like:
- Starting a new job
- Buying or refinancing a home
- Taking out a loan
- Opening a credit card
- Opening an account with anew utility company or cellphone provider
Placing a security freeze on your credit report does not affect your credit score, nor does it keep you from obtaining your credit report from each of the agencies at any time. Although a freeze can help block identity thieves from opening new accounts with your information, it does not prevent them from making charges on existing accounts. So you should still continue to monitor statements for existing accounts for fraudulent transactions. As you can see, freezing your credit report can be a useful tool for protecting your identity, but it may not be right for everyone. Before setting up a freeze on your credit report, you will want to make sure the timing is right for your unique situation. Let us know if we can be of help.
Melissa Parkins, CFP® is an Associate Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.
This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Melissa Parkins and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete.
Raymond James is not affiliated with Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.
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