Given the number of recent data breaches the topic of protecting your credit has been all over the place.
That’s the silver lining of all of these retailer’s data breaches.
The two most commonly referenced methods of protecting your credit is credit monitoring and a credit freeze, more formally known as a security freeze.
A security freeze takes your credit report out of circulation and only allows your existing creditors access to it and your credit scores.
Collection agencies can also get access for their skip tracing activities.
Credit monitoring, on the other hand, tracks your credit report or credit reports for changes that are indicative of credit related fraud, like new addresses, newly opened accounts or new inquiries, among other changes.
Monitoring Over Freezing
The premise behind freezing your credit reports is that if a new creditor can’t get access to them then they will never open an account in your name, thus preventing the fraud.
The premise with credit monitoring is that if something on your credit report changes because of fraud you’ll be notified about it very quickly and can do something about stopping the presses on the fraudulent activity.
Credit monitoring is most effective when the service is monitoring all three of your credit reports (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). But, “tri-bureau” credit monitoring isn’t free.
The cost of tri-bureau credit monitoring subscription services is normally around $15 per month, give or take.
There are some free options on the market but they only monitoring one of your three credit reports, which is certainly better than a stick in the eye but not comprehensive.
If you’ve been a victim of fraud, credit freezes are free thanks to state law.
If you’ve not been the victim then you can still freeze your reports but it’s not free although it’s pretty inexpensive.
The fees vary by state but at worst it’s $15 to freeze your credit reports (times 3 if you freeze all three of your reports).
In some states it’s as cheap at $3 per report. And, that’s not reoccurring like credit monitoring subscriptions.
Once your credit reports are frozen you don’t have to worry about new accounts being opened in your name. It just isn’t going to happen.
No lender in their right mind would ever extend credit without first looking at your credit reports and scores.
This gives the security freeze extra marks for effectiveness as a proactive solution.
Freezing Over Monitoring
Credit monitoring is autopilot credit protection. You sign up and then forget about it.
The credit bureaus do the work for you by passively tracking your credit reports every business day for suspicious activity.
And, if something happens they’ll notify you via email or via text message so you can get involved and stop the fraud before it gets out of control.
Credit freezing is not autopilot and requires you to be more engaged with your credit reports especially when do something that involves some sort of credit report or credit score review.
The freezing is so effective that if you were to apply for credit, insurance or a job (all of which can lead to your credit report/s being pulled) you may find yourself denied because the lender, employer or insurance company couldn’t get access to it because of the freeze.
And while freezing is likely less expensive in the long run than credit monitoring, there is a fee to thaw and refreeze your reports.
Because only you control the thawing of your frozen credit reports you’d have to do so before applying for credit.
When you place the freeze you would be asked to set up login credentials, something you’ve probably done dozens of times in your life.
To thaw you reports you’d log in to your security freeze account with the credit bureaus’ websites and thaw them and then re-freeze them once the lender has accessed them.
So, there’s more engagement than with credit monitoring.
John Ulzheimer is the Credit Expert at CreditSesame.com, and a credit blogger at SmartCredit.com, Mint.com, and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit. You can follow John on Twitter here.