by Julia Cronin, JD
We counsel clients nearly every day about strategies to preserve their assets and enhance their privacy as a component of their comprehensive estate planning strategy. Many clients execute sophisticated strategies to accomplish these planning objectives, but one important, proactive step that clients can take at any time to protect their financial well-being is to freeze their credit, and to freeze their children’s credit.
A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, restricts access to a person’s credit file. Once the credit freeze is in place, it halts anyone from opening any new credit on the frozen credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in the credit-holder’s name.
Importantly, parents can also freeze the credit of their children who are under sixteen. Individuals who are 16 or 17 years old may request a credit freeze for themselves. In the absence of a request for a credit freeze, minors should not have a credit file. However, credit bureaus have no way to determine whether a Social Security number belongs to the person using it. Accordingly, an identity thief may create an identity by using a child’s stolen Social Security number and attaching it to any fictious name, address, and date of birth. Since generally parents do not have a reason to inquire about a credit record for their child, the identity theft may not be discovered for many years.
Guardians, conservators, or agents acting under a valid power of attorney can also freeze the credit of their dependent or principal.
Under the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which took effect in September 2018, it is free to freeze credit for yourself or a dependent or a principal. It’s also a quick process – a credit freeze request made over the phone or online must be completed within one day. If the credit freeze request is made by mail, the freeze must be implemented within three days of receiving the request.
Removing a credit freeze is also efficient. A request may be made to lift a freeze by phone or online, and the lift must be effective within the hour. If a request to lift a freeze is made my mail, the freeze must be lifted within three days of receiving the request. In addition, a lift may be requested for a short period of time (for example, to apply for a car loan, a new credit card, or a mortgage), but you may request that the freeze resume after the specified time needed for the authorized credit pull. Note that when you freeze your credit, you will create a PIN to unfreeze your credit. Please save that PIN in a secure location, because you’ll need it in the future!
For adults, credit may be frozen online by visiting each of the three credit reporting firms. Simply visit the following websites:
- EQUIFAX: https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/
- EXPERIAN: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- TRANSUNION: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze
For children who are under 16, a parent or guardian must send a credit reporting firm-specific form via U.S. Mail, along with copies of the documents listed below. Children who are 16 or 17, they must make the freeze request themselves via U.S. Mail, along with copies of the documents listed below.
- Copy of parent or guardian’s driver’s license or other government-issued identification;
- Copy of parent or guardian’s Social Security card
- Copy of parent or guardian’s birth certificate
- A utility bill or bank or insurance statement with the parent or guardian’s name and address on it.
- Copy of the minor’s Social Security card
- Copy of the minor’s birth certificate
The child credit freeze forms may be found here:
Because of the sensitive nature of the information, we recommend you mail the package to the credit reporting agency with the highest level of tracking possible and request a physically signed receipt. The requesting party will receive confirmation of the freeze from the credit reporting agency in the mail. Store this confirmation securely, because it will include your child’s PIN.
You may want to include a cover letter, such as:
Dear [EQUIFAX / EXPERIAN / TRANSUNION],
I would like to place a protected consumer freeze on behalf of _________________________. I have attached copies of the required documents, which show my standing to request the freeze.
My address is:
Thank you. I look forward to receiving confirmation of the requested credit freeze.
It is our honor and our pleasure to serve our clients in accomplishing their planning objectives. If you wish to discuss additional strategies to preserve your assets and enhance your privacy as a component of your comprehensive estate planning strategy, we would be delighted to speak with you.