A credit freeze (sometimes referred to as a security freeze) can be a handy tool in helping to prevent your personal information from falling into the wrong hands.

Until recently, credit freezes were available only in a few states and at a cost. However, federal law has now required that they be available nationwide and for free.

Ahead, we will delve into the ins and outs of credit freezes including what they are, when to use them, and how to set up an Equifax credit freeze.

What Is a Credit Freeze?

A credit freeze puts a hold on your credit report, preventing those that do not already have access to it from gaining access. Until you decide to lift the freeze, no one will be able to check your credit or open a new credit account in your name.

Any creditors or collection agencies you already have will still have access your credit information, however. If anyone attempts to misuse your personal data to open up a fraudulent account, the creditor will not be able to check your credit to do so.

Your ability to use the credit accounts you already have will not be affected, and a freeze will have no effect on your credit score.

When to Use an Equifax Credit Freeze

If your identity has been stolen, or if you’ve been informed of a compromise in the security of your personal identifying information, it’s a good idea to request a credit freeze.

You may also want to freeze your credit if you suspect your Social Security number or other information such as your date of birth, or driver’s license has been stolen. Some consumers use credit freezes as a preventative measure to safeguard their credit, even if they aren’t at risk of identity theft.

How to Freeze Your Credit with Equifax

A credit freeze with Equifax is easy and free to set up, and can be done in one of the following ways:

Requesting a Credit Freeze by Phone

To request an Equifax security freeze over the phone, call 1-800-685-1111. If you are in New York, the number is 1-800-349-9960.

In order to process your request over the phone, your address, state, and Social Security number will all be required.

Requesting a Credit Freeze in Writing

To request an Equifax security freeze in writing, mail your request to Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348.

You must include your full name, address, date of birth and Social Security number in order for your request to be successfully processed.

Equifax will also require copies of documents confirming your name and address. Utility bills, bank statements, a passport, driver’s license or a military ID would be good examples of this.

Requesting a Credit Freeze Online

The fastest and easiest way to freeze your credit with Equifax is online, via Equifax’s website.

Visit Equifax.com and go to Credit Report Services.

Click “Get Started” and create an account. Your name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number will be required in order to successfully process your request.

You can select whether you want to place, temporarily end, or permanently lift a credit freeze.

Alternatives to a Credit Freeze

Before considering a credit freeze, there are two alternatives available…

One alternative to a credit freeze with Equifax, and in turn TransUnion and Experian, is a credit lock. While a credit lock provides the opportunity to lock, unlock, and relock your account with a single click, making this more simple and convenient than a credit freeze, this does come with a fee of $19.99 a month or $240 a year.

Credit monitoring is also an option. Credit monitoring is a service offered by many companies who will track any activity on your credit file or any attempts to use your Social Security number to obtain credit. These companies essentially follow activity on credit data gathered by Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.