The best thing that the 143 million victims of the Equifax data breach can do to protect themselves is to freeze their credit. But what if you’re seeking a mortgage, applying for a credit card, or refinancing a loan?

A credit freeze can cause problems because banks need unfettered access to your credit information when making lending decisions about you.

More resources

“When it comes to protecting yourself, the credit freeze is your best option,” says Al Pascual, research director and head of fraud and security at Javelin Strategy, a California-based independent digital financial advisory firm. But freezing and unfreezing your credit—which you will need to do so that lenders have the access they need—can be pretty cumbersome, Pascual says. 

For example, to freeze their credit, consumers have to contact each monitoring agency through its website, by mail, or through the customer service number. Then they have to do this again when they temporarily unfreeze, and then refreeze their credit accounts.

Apps to Control Access to Your Credit Info

To avoid this, consumers could instead use new digital tools from the three credit bureaus to lock and unlock their credit whenever they want. This method costs more than a regular credit freeze but gives you the flexibility you need when seeking a loan.

TransUnion’s mobile app allows consumers to lock and unlock their TransUnion credit report straight from their smartphone as often as needed for no charge. To have access, consumers first have to enroll in the company’s TrueIdentity service.

“Locking their TransUnion credit report gives the consumer online, real-time control over whether a lender can get their credit report to open a new account, and there is no fee for this service,” says David Blumberg, a TransUnion spokesman. 

With TrueIdentity, consumers also get access to their TransUnion credit report and receive free monitoring alerts, among other services.

Experian offers a product called CreditLock through CreditWorks, a subscription service. It costs $4.99 for your first month of access, then $24.99 a month.

The CreditLock feature allows CreditWorks members to lock and unlock their Experian credit reports in real time. When a member’s report is locked, CreditLock prevents a lender from accessing his Experian credit report. If the account is locked and someone tries to access it, the member will receive a real-time alert via email and app push notification. If the member would like to apply for credit, he can unlock his Experian credit report via the web or the Experian CreditWorks app.

“When a member locks her Experian credit report, it provides protections similar to a security freeze, but is simpler to execute,” Experian spokeswoman Sandra Bernardo wrote in an email to Consumer Reports.

CreditLock also includes daily monitoring and attempted inquiry alerts if someone applies for credit while the report is locked, as well as access to your FICO Score 8 and Experian report.

Equifax is making its TrustedID Premier service available to all consumers free for one year. It gives you access to your credit report, credit monitoring, and an identity theft protection product. Consumers have until Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, to sign up.

TrustedID Premier also gives consumers the ability to lock their Equifax credit report by submitting a request online. Requests will be fulfilled by Equifax within 24 to 48 hours. According to the Equifax FAQ site, you can have either a security freeze or Equifax credit file lock on your Equifax credit report, but not both.

Until recently, Equifax also offered a mobile app with credit locking and unlocking abilities, Pascual says. However, since the data breach occurred, the app is no longer available on iTunes or the Android App Store.

Equifax wasn’t able to immediately respond to Consumer Reports’ inquiry for this story.