Freezing Your Credit Could Soon Be Free, Thanks to Congress
If you're like me, the Equifax data breach drove you straight to your computer to search "how to freeze my credit." Then, you discovered annoying news: To prevent thieves from opening new credit cards or mortgages in your name, you most likely had to use one of your existing credit cards to pay around $10 for each freeze. Equifax, knowing it had fumbled the confidential information of nearly half the country, waived the fee, but depending on the state you live in, a price tag between $2 and $10 was attached to freezing credit at Experian and TransUnion.
Soon enough, you might be able to wave goodbye to any of those fees. The Senate is debating S.2155, a bill that includes a provision to remove any consumer costs when freezing and unfreezing credit. The bill, unlike almost anything in Congress, has support from both sides of the aisle. Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Senator Mark Warner, D-Virginia, are co-sponsors of the legislation. While eliminating fees for safeguarding credit is a positive step for consumers, some critics have voiced concerns that the bill contains changes that could mark a return to the risky lending that paved the way to the financial crisis of 2008.
"The bill still puts our economy at risk by removing important bank-regulating tools that can rein in risky practices taken by giant and big banks," Mike Litt, consumer program director at U.S. PIRG, a public advocacy group, wrote in a statement on the bill. "For that matter, it may encourage community banks to undertake those risky practices."
How Many People Are Actually Worried About Their Credit?
Setting aside questions of whether the bill is too friendly to the banking industry, the ability to manage your credit with no additional cost would be good news for anyone who is worried about their information floating around on the black market. However, recent studies have shown that data breaches and identity thieves aren't exactly keeping Americans up at night. A survey of 1,000 consumers conducted by CreditCards.com shortly after the initial Equifax breach showed that only about 25 percent of people had bothered to check their credit scores or their credit reports. In fact, 30 percent of people hadn't even heard about the breach. Another survey conducted by CreditSesame.com found that 86 percent of respondents had opted to do nothing after the Equifax debacle.
Studying Your Existing Accounts Is Essential
Perhaps the number of people freezing their credit will increase if the bill clears the Senate and makes it through the House of Representatives. After all, consumers enjoy using free services. Freezing your credit is far from the most important step to keeping yourself safe, though. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice released statistics that showed only four percent of identity theft cases were due to new accounts opened with stolen information. The vast majority of theft — 86 percent — occurs with existing accounts. It sounds much easier to rack up bills on credit card numbers that already exist than submitting new applications. Make your information code harder to crack by following "6 Tips for Keeping Your Credit Card Safe Online."