Quick! Check your pockets. Do you have all of your personal belongings?
At some point in our lives, we all likely have felt the rush of panic that comes with misplacing important personal items like keys, cash, identification or credit cards.
That sinking feeling in your stomach can be overwhelming, but fear not. You may have a safety net in place that you didn’t even know about that can help you push “pause” while attempting to remedy the situation.
Credit card issuers have developed a way to alleviate at least a little bit of that stress by giving individual members the ability to freeze activity on their card with the simple click of a button.
Credit card freezes are an increasingly popular way to secure your card in the event it is misplaced, prevent stolen cards from being used and even manage personal spending.
What Does It Mean to Freeze a Credit Card and Why Would I Want to Do That?
A credit card freeze is a quick way to inform your credit card company that you would like them to temporarily halt transactions such as new point-of-sale purchases or cash advances.
You’re going to want to request this action via the card issuers’ phone app, website or customer service line if you find yourself unable to locate your credit card and are afraid that you’re exposed to potential fraudulent or unauthorized transactions.
The credit card freeze process is quick and efficient, with most card issuers offering it free of charge with the ability to “freeze” and “unfreeze” the account within a matter of seconds, if needed.
That can be a pretty handy asset if you’re prone to misplacing your wallet, have children who sometimes use your card, are going on vacation and want peace of mind while you’re away, or are a frequent traveler who worries about losing something along the way.
How Can I Freeze My Credit Card?
First, check with your individual card provider to see if a credit card freeze is an option for you. Once you figure out that your account is eligible for this process, there likely will be a few different ways you can freeze the account.
I checked major card providers Discover and American Express to better understand the freezing process. Both offer the ability to freeze your card via their phone apps (iOS or Android), website or by telephone.
Each of these methods will require that you sign in to your account with the proper credentials, but it’s actually pretty easy from there.
On the Discover app, the “Freeze Account” option is located on the landing page upon successful log-in. From there, the following screen will give you the option to freeze the account:
On the American Express website, you can freeze your account by clicking on the “Account Services” tab and then finding the “Freeze Card” option under the “Card Management” heading. Here’s a look at the process for American Express:
Which Credit Card Companies Allow Freezing a Credit Card?
The following credit card issuers offer the ability to freeze or lock your card. The link attached to each should give you more information on the process for each issuer, as best practices for freezing a card may vary by provider:
- American Express
- Bank of America
- Capital One
- Navy Federal
- Wells Fargo
Ultimately, you should contact your credit card provider to inquire about the availability of this service for your account.
Some Important Things to Know Before Choosing to Freeze Your Credit Card
Ready to get started using the credit card freeze option with your personal accounts? Great. But before you start, here are a few things to remember along the way:
A Freeze Doesn’t Stop All Transactions
With most credit card companies, freezing your card does not necessarily lock all transactions from being processed.
Both American Express and Discover warn that the freeze is primarily on point-of-sale or one-time uses of the card. If you have charges that are classified as recurring, those will continue to be processed as usual even if your card is frozen.
Regularly scheduled charges like online subscriptions should be monitored closely. They may require more action than just freezing the card if you’re trying to shut off all transactions to the account.
It also is possible to complete some online wallet transactions with some accounts even though the card is frozen.
A Credit Card Freeze Is Different Than a Credit Freeze or a Credit Lock
While the terminology is close, there is an important distinction between freezing your card and freezing your credit.
Freezing your credit involves restricting access to your credit reports. This is done through the major credit bureaus and it likely will result in the inability to have a new credit account opened in your name.
This process is completely unrelated to credit card freezes, which only involve temporarily restricting the use of an existing credit card.
There May Be a Time Limit on Your Card Freeze
While most card companies will allow you to freeze and unfreeze (lock and unlock) the account in real time, it is intended to be a temporary status for the card.
American Express says that it will automatically unfreeze a card after seven days, for example.
Final Thoughts on Credit Card Freezes
This is a convenient, easy-to-use tool that you should seek to have in your financial arsenal.
Most credit card companies are offering this as a free service because in the long run it also saves them money in settling fraudulent activity if you’re proactive about freezing your card during uncertain times.
Given the temporary nature of a freeze and the ease in which you can unfreeze an account, it is a good idea for consumers to participate at some level.
Your individual threshold for when it is appropriate to freeze your card will inevitably vary based on personal circumstances and financial experience. Spending 10 or 15 minutes to familiarize yourself with the process for your cards now could save you a lot of headaches in the future.