3 Ways to Protect Your Credit if You’re Stressing Over Recent Breaches

High angle view of wallet with security lock on computer keyboard.
Ismailciydem/Getty Images

Worried about the security of your credit after a year filled with security breaches?

Your first instinct might be to lock it all down until further notice. But it’s not that simple — there are several options available. And when you’re stressed about your credit safety, they can all be confusing.

The Federal Trade Commission released a blog post describing the difference between fraud alerts, credit freezes and credit locks.  

Here’s the rundown:

Fraud alert: A 90-day alert on your account that requires companies to contact you before offering new credit. This is a free service, and you only need to set up an alert with one of the credit reporting agencies, and the agency you set up the alert with must notify the other two.

Credit freeze: Nobody, not even you, can open new accounts while a freeze is on your credit. In most cases, a freeze lasts until you request to have it lifted. There are small fees of about $5 to $10 each time you make a change to your freeze status. You must request a credit freeze with each credit reporting agency. It can take a few days for your account to update when you freeze or unfreeze your credit.

Credit lock: A lock blocks everyone, including you, from making changes to your credit file. This access is managed through a website or mobile app, and access is instant if you unlock your credit. This option is the most expensive: Each credit reporting agency charges a monthly fee upward of $20. You must request a credit lock from each individual credit reporting agency.

So, which one is right for you?

The FTC has a chart to help you decide. Since fraud alerts are free and can be set up every 90 days, you should feel empowered to use them if you want to keep a close eye on your credit.

Since there are fees involved with both credit freezes and credit locks, they make more sense for someone who has a strong suspicion their credit may be compromised — for example, if you received notice you were affected by a security breach.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.