What’s Better? A Credit Lock or a Credit Freeze?
One of the easiest ways scammers can target your finances is by using your stolen information to open new accounts or take out lines of credit and loans in your name.
Last year alone, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), received close to 700,000 reports of fraud related to new fraudulent bank accounts, credit cards, and loans [*].
A credit lock and a credit freeze are both great ways to protect your credit, personal finances, and identity from fraudsters. Once enabled, these tools prevent anyone from accessing your credit file, which can stop criminals from opening new accounts or taking out loans in your name.
But while these terms sound the same, there are differences in how they work, what they cost — and ultimately, which one is right for you.
In this guide, we’ll cover the similarities and key differences between a credit lock and a credit freeze to help you pick the one that’s best for you.
Credit Lock vs. Credit Freeze: How Do They Compare?
Many people use the terms credit freeze, security freeze, fraud alert, and credit lock interchangeably. However, there are key differences between them that will determine which one is right for you.
Here are the main differences between a credit lock and a credit freeze:
When Should You Lock or Freeze Your Credit?
Both credit locks and credit freezes can be used to proactively protect your credit from scammers. However, it doesn’t always make sense to have a lock or freeze enabled — especially if you’re actively shopping around and applying for credit, such as a new credit card, auto loan, or mortgage.
Instead, strongly consider a lock or freeze if you see any warning signs of identity theft or credit fraud, such as:
- Unfamiliar charges on your credit card or bank account statements.
- Hard inquiries on your credit file that you don’t recognize.
- Finding your personal information online after a recent data breach. (Pro tip: Use Aura’s free Dark Web scanner to check if your sensitive information has been compromised.)
- Calls from debt collectors about purchases you didn’t make or loans you didn’t take out.
- Sensitive documents or mail are missing (bills, tax documents, driver’s license, passport, etc.)
- Being denied for loans, credit cards, or mortgages.
- A sudden change in your credit score — especially a drop.
- Being locked out of your online accounts (email, mobile banking, social media, etc.)
If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you need to do more than lock or freeze your credit. Follow this guide on what to do if your identity is stolen to secure yourself from the worst consequences of identity theft.
Remember: Neither a lock or freeze can protect your current accounts from scammers. It can only stop anyone from opening new accounts or lines of credit in your name. To protect your bank account, credit card, and other financial accounts, consider a credit monitoring service.
What Is a Credit Lock? When Should You Use It?
A credit lock prevents creditors and lenders from accessing your credit history and, in theory, opening a new credit account in your name.
Credit locks are not protected by law. Instead, they are governed by a contract between you and the credit reporting agency.
Here’s how a credit lock is different from a credit freeze:
- Credit locks are faster and more convenient than freezes. You can lock and unlock credit files online or via Aura's mobile app using biometric identity verification techniques like Face ID. You can conveniently toggle the credit lock switch on/off as desired from the Aura mobile app.
- Credit locks can cost money. To lock your credit, you must enroll in a program with the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While some of these services are free, others charge a monthly fee to lock and unlock your credit.
Because you can immediately toggle a credit lock on or off, it's recommended to keep your credit locked at all times. Only unlock it when you apply for a personal loan or to open a new credit account.
How To Lock Your Credit
There are three main credit lock programs you can use. Each one only locks your credit file with a single credit bureau. For total protection, you’ll want to lock your credit with all three bureaus.
- Equifax Lock & Alert. This program lets you control your Equifax credit report and files for free. You can also access other products including free credit reports and fraud alerts.
- TransUnion TrueIdentity. You can lock your TransUnion credit report for free through TrueIdentity. You also get unlimited credit report refreshes and real-time alerts for free.
- Experian CreditLock. Through Experian's service, CreditWorks, you can lock and unlock your Experian credit files. It's free for seven days and then costs $24.99 per month.
Once you sign up, you'll have access to your credit files via a mobile or desktop app. To lock your credit, toggle the settings to "Locked". Toggle it back when you are ready to unlock your credit. This takes only a few seconds.
💡 Related: LifeLock vs. Experian – Which One's Right For You? →
Pro tip: Lock your credit (and protect your identity at the same time)
Aura’s award-winning identity theft protection includes Experian credit lock as well as three-bureau credit monitoring, digital security tools, and more.
When you sign up for Aura, you can secure your credit report with one click, and do much more to protect your personal finances and data online:
- Monitor credit and fraud alerts in real-time: Track all your bank and credit accounts (including your credit report) for unfamiliar activity. Aura’s fraud alerts are up to 4x faster than other services — meaning you’ll know sooner if someone is trying to steal your identity.
- Monitor online accounts: Know right away if your online accounts have been compromised or if scammers are targeting you with a credit card scam.
- Monitor the Dark Web: Aura will continuously scan the Dark Web for your personal information, like your credit card or Social Security number.
- Use a VPN with malware protection: Keep all your devices safe from hackers and malware with military-grade encryption and Wi-Fi protection.
- $1,000,000 identity theft insurance policy: Every Aura plan comes with an insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft.
✅ Try Aura free for 14 days and protect your credit from fraudsters →
What Is a Credit Freeze? When Should You Use It?
Credit freezes, also known as security freezes, will seal your credit history to help prevent identity theft and financial fraud. It limits access to your credit information until you "thaw" your credit, or remove the freeze.
If an identity thief tries to open a new credit account in your name, a lender will first check your credit report and credit score to process the application. A freeze on your account blocks anyone from accessing your credit information and can prevent unauthorized accounts from being opened.
Here’s why you might want to choose a credit freeze:
- Credit freezes are free. By law, credit freezes are free to anyone — regardless of if you’ve been the victim of fraud or not.
- You’ll get access to your credit reports. and offer other legal protections (such as access to credit reports to check for fraud).
Note: A credit freeze won’t block your credit file from government agencies, companies that provide copies of your credit report, or for employment, tenant, or background screening.
💡 Related: How To Freeze Your Social Security Number (SSN Self Lock) →
How To Freeze Your Credit
To freeze your credit, you'll need to contact each major credit bureau and request a freeze. They’ll verify your identity and then provide you with a Personal Identification Number (PIN) you can use to freeze and unfreeze your credit file.
When you make the request, you'll need to provide your:
- Date of birth
- Address history
- Social Security number
You can unfreeze your credit report online, by phone, or by mail. Federal law requires credit reporting agencies to lift the freeze within one business day if you call or submit a request online.
Here’s how to contact each of the credit bureaus and request a credit freeze:
Freezes last indefinitely, or until you thaw your file. In a few states, freezes expire after seven years.
💡 Related: The 11 Best Credit Monitoring Services (Free & Paid Options) →
Are There Downsides To Freezing Your Credit?
- A credit freeze involves going through a series of steps online, by phone, or by mail. If you wish to apply for new credit, you can lift your credit freeze and refreeze it on a specific date.
- You'll need to unfreeze reports before applying for a legitimate loan, mortgage, credit card, or other accounts that require a credit check.
- You'll need to lift a credit freeze to apply for certain jobs that require a credit check.
- Unfreezing your credit takes time. It can take between one hour and a few days to thaw your credit.
- In cases where criminals already have access to your account (like when you've had your bank login information stolen by hackers), a credit freeze won't protect you.
Note: You cannot freeze and lock your credit report at the same time. If you want to lock your credit and the file is frozen, you'll need to thaw your accounts first. Only then you can use a credit locking service.
Can a credit freeze hurt your credit score?
Placing a freeze on your credit does not impact your credit score, but it'll stop credit bureaus from calculating your scores until you lift the freeze.
When Should You Use a Fraud Alert Instead?
Enabling fraud alerts is another way to protect your credit. A fraud alert places a warning on your credit file that informs creditors they should verify your identity — for example, by calling you on the phone — before opening new credit.
To put a fraud alert in place, you only need to contact one of the three major credit bureaus. By law, they need to inform the other two of your fraud alert.
There are three types of fraud alerts you can ask for:
- Initial fraud alerts last for one year and can be renewed every year thereafter.
- Extended fraud alerts last for seven years. To ask for you, you’ll have to prove that your identity has been compromised (for example, with an FTC report).
- Active duty alerts are for service members. They last one year and can be renewed for as long as you’re on deployment.
Fraud alerts give you more flexibility as you’ll still be able to apply for credit. However, this makes them less secure than a credit freeze or lock.
💡 Related: Fraud Alert vs. Credit Freeze — Which Is Better? →
The Bottom Line: The Choice Comes Down To Cost and Convenience
Choosing between a credit lock or a credit freeze comes down to two factors: cost and convenience.
- Credit locks are more convenient, but are not free of cost. With just a tap or click, you can lock your credit. But services like Experian charge you $24.99 per month. That's why you should try Aura instead, since pricing starts at $12 per month.
- Credit freezes are free, but take more time. Credit freezes require more steps and take longer to activate and deactivate. However, freezes are free thanks to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).What's the main difference?
While it can be hard to justify paying for a digital security solution, proactively protecting yourself from digital threats can save you in the long run. For the peace of mind of instant credit lock, three-bureau credit monitoring, and award-winning identity theft protection, consider signing up for Aura today.