Q: I froze my credit reports at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion on Sept. 23, 2017. I am retired and really don’t need any more credit cards or loans. I have been told by many people to leave them frozen. What is your advice? - John

A: Leave them frozen. I am a big fan of the credit freeze or security freeze. That said, I’m going to use your question to elaborate on the reasons for embracing the credit freeze.

We live in an era of growing cyberscams and identity theft. A credit freeze is one of the most important ways to protect our credit data from digital crooks and credit mischief. Credit freezes are now free to consumers. So is lifting the freeze when needed. A credit freeze doesn’t affect your credit score. You can still get your free annual credit reports from the credit bureaus. A credit freeze doesn’t impact your current lines of credit.

The cost consumers now pay for managing a credit freeze is nothing more than a minor inconvenience that is well worth the benefit.

To be sure, a credit freeze doesn’t eliminate all risks from cybercriminals. Nevertheless, the freeze makes it harder for crooks to exploit your credit data. It basically means people can’t get access to your credit history and open new loan accounts in your name.

Your note said you are fine with your existing credit cards and you don’t see any reason for taking out a new loan. Yet a credit freeze doesn’t mean you couldn’t get a new mortgage, car loan or credit card if you wished. It just means you would unfreeze your accounts with the credit reporting bureaus for a short period of time and then reinstate the freeze.

The process of putting on a credit freeze does require spending some time gathering your information and contacting the three main credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each offers a step-by-step guide for freezing your accounts. The task can be accomplished online, by phone or regular mail. Each credit-reporting bureau procedure slightly differs. But you establish your identity, set up the freeze and create a PIN that allows you to unfreeze and refreeze your account.

There seems to be very little we can do about cybercrimes and identity theft. The criminal justice system, regulators, legislators and business still seem to be floundering in how best to protect our identities and prosecute the crooks. The credit freeze is a good personal finance habit to embrace to protect your credit.

 

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for “Marketplace” and a commentator for Minnesota Public Radio.