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“For example, if you’re planning on car shopping soon, I’d lift the freeze about three business days before applying for an auto loan.That gives you a grace period in case you hit an unexpected delay.” A credit lock, on the other hand, is activated or lifted using an app on your smartphone, and it’s instantaneous. Only two credit monitoring bureaus, Trans Union and Equifax, offer free credit-lock products.Equifax and Trans Union have you create a password if you manage your credit online, and will issue you a PIN if you manage your credit on the phone or by mail.These PINs and passwords are important because you’ll need them in case you want to temporarily lift your credit freeze in the future, for instance, if you want to apply for a new credit card.Credit locks may be less complicated and less time-consuming to manage than credit freezes.All consumers requesting a freeze from Experian get a personal identification number to use to manage their credit information.To entice consumers to use credit locks, the credit bureaus cite convenience and may offer special deals.
“The new law mandates that credit freezes can be lifted in less than 1 hour, but I recommend allowing a bit more lead time,” says Credit industry analyst Ted Rossman.
However, there are some important differences to keep in mind when deciding which tool to use.
A credit freeze offers more stringent legal protections, making it the better option for consumers, according to Christina Tetreault, a staff attorney on the financial services team at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.
Another consideration: With a credit freeze, you won’t be targeted by ads.
“These lock services may allow the credit reporting agency to market to consumers more aggressively for products that they may not need and/or shouldn’t pay for,” Tetreault says.
“The contract may be unclear, may include provisions that allow the other party to change it, or include provisions that you may be better off not agreeing to, such as an arbitration agreement,” she says.