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Unnerved by the massive Equifax data breach and wondering how much you'll pay to freeze your credit report? That depends on where you live.
In seven states, it costs nothing to lock your information at each of the three credit-reporting companies, according to data from ValuePenguin. In the remaining states, the cost ranges from $3 to about $10 for each lock.
The basic benefit of putting a lock on your credit is that if a fraudster attempts to take out a loan or get credit using your personal information, the lender will be unable to check your credit score or history and generally won't approve the application.
"It's a drastic but effective way to protect your credit and your financial identity," said Janna Herron, a credit expert at ValuePenguin.
The Equifax revelation last week that potentially 143 million consumers' personal information was compromised has left a number of experts recommending that consumers lock their credit reports.
At Equifax, which repeatedly has revised its response to the data breach in the face of broad criticism of its handling of the hacking, the typical lock fee is now waived if you act before Nov. 21. That's the last day to sign up for the company's one-year free credit monitoring and identity protection service available to all U.S. consumers, a spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.
Keep in mind that signing up for this service does not mean an automatic lock goes on your credit. That's a separate action.
The Equifax fee waiver means that in Washington, where lock fees are the highest, it will cost $30.95 after Nov. 21 to put a freeze on your credit at all three firms — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and $20.95 before then while the $10 Equifax fee is waived.
Data exposed in the breach, , include names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses and some driver's licence numbers, according to the company. The cyberattack, carried out by suspected criminal hackers, occurred from mid-May through July.
While a freeze is the best option to guard against fraud, it isn't headache-free. Once there's a lock on your credit, you'll need to temporarily unlock it if you need a lender to access your report.
States where you can lock your credit report for free: Colorado, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina
In some states, there is no charge for this action; in other states, you'll pay a fee, Herron said. And if you don't know which credit-reporting company the lender uses, you'll have to temporarily unlock your reports at each firm separately.
"You can ask the lender, but it might be hard to get that information," Herron said, adding that you should allow at least three days for your unlock order to take effect.
She also said that putting a lock on your report won't limit your ability to check your own credit report. Additionally, lenders you already have a relationship with can access your information even with a freeze in place.