You can now add credit-report freezes to the list of best things in life that are free.
As of Friday, consumers won't have to pay a fee to credit-reporting firms when they want to use a freeze to help protect themselves from identity theft. They would, however, need to contact each of the big three bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — to cover all their bases.
"I think this is a good partial step," said John Ulzheimer, a credit expert and president of The Ulzheimer Group in Atlanta.
"You don't want to have people paying something to protect their credit," Ulzheimer said. "But another step would be to mandate that if you freeze it at one bureau, it's a one-and-done thing so it's frozen at all three bureaus."
How to freeze your credit report for free:
• TransUnion: Visit TransUnion.com/credit-freeze. The company also has a free-freeze mobile app called myTransUnion, available at the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
• Equifax: Visit https://www.Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/. Or call its automated line at 800-685-1111.
• Experian: Visit www.Experian.com/freeze. Or call 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742).
A credit freeze essentially blocks a lender from checking your report, which means a criminal would be unable to open an account using your personal data. Once the freeze is in place, you have to "thaw" it — either temporarily or permanently — if you apply for credit or a loan so the bank can check your credit. This is free now, as well.
Eliminating the fees arose from legislation that was signed into law in May, about eight months after Equifax revealed its consumer database had been breached in a criminal cyberattack. The private data — including names, birthdates and Social Security numbers — of as many as 148 million consumers were compromised in the breach.
In the wake of Equifax's revelation last September, consumer advocates warned people to freeze their credit reports. They also decried the cost involved.