Card locks: What they are and how they work

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Did you know that you can lock your credit card any time you don’t want anyone to use it? Whether you’re trying to prevent yourself from making impulse purchases or keep a family member from accessing your credit account, a credit card lock can stop people from making new charges (while still allowing previously authorized charges, such as subscription payments or scheduled bill payments, to process as usual).

This is what makes a credit card freeze so unique—and why learning how to lock your credit card should be an essential personal finance tool. Since a credit card lock prevents new charges while allowing previously authorized charges to go through, you don’t have to worry about missing an important bill payment just because you’ve frozen your credit card account. Instead, you can lock your card every time you don’t want anyone to make new charges.

Maybe you’ve misplaced your credit card, for example, and want a chance to look for it before you contact your credit card issuer about a replacement. A credit card freeze gives you time to find your card without having to worry about someone else finding it first.

Locking a credit card is easy, and most credit card issuers allow you to manage your credit card locks from your online account or mobile app. Here’s what you need to know about getting a card lock, lifting a credit card freeze and how to use card locks to keep your credit accounts secure.

What is card lock?

Card lock is a feature that allows you to lock or freeze your credit card account for a certain period of time. Many people use card locks to prevent themselves or others from making purchases on their credit card. Locking a credit card is quick and easy, and most credit card issuers allow you to manage your card locks through your online account or credit card app.

How does a card lock work?

A card lock or credit card freeze prevents anyone from making new purchases on your credit card account. Most credit card locks still allow recurring automatic transactions, such as subscriptions or bills, to go through. That way, you can lock your credit card without having to worry about falling behind on your bill payments.

What can a card lock do for you?

A credit card lock can help keep your credit card account safe from thieves and hackers. If you have reason to suspect that your credit card number has been compromised, a card lock is one way to keep third parties from making purchases on your account—though you’ll probably also want to contact your credit card issuer to report the suspected fraud and request a new credit card number.

You can also freeze your credit card account if you accidentally misplace your credit card—especially if you think you’ll be able to find your credit card in a day or two. In some cases, you should deal with a lost credit card by contacting your credit issuer and requesting a replacement. In other cases, you may just need to dig under the seats of your car, check the couch cushions or empty out your backpack. A card lock can protect your account until you decide whether your credit card is locked for good.

There’s one more reason to lock your credit card account, and that’s to prevent you from making new purchases on the card. If you are trying to curb impulse shopping or stay out of credit card debt, locking your credit card is a great way to protect yourself from making purchases you might later regret.

Since most credit card locks allow recurring transactions like subscriptions to go through, you can also use a card lock as a way to keep an old credit card account active. Closing an old credit card can hurt your credit score, so consider putting one or two subscriptions on the card, setting up auto-pay to ensure that you don’t fall behind on your payments and locking your card to prevent yourself (or anyone else) from making new purchases on the account.

You can even use card locks to protect credit card accounts that you don’t use on a regular basis. If you recently switched your primary spending from a travel rewards credit card to a cash back credit card, for example, lock or freeze your travel credit card to ensure it remains safe, and continue putting your day-to-day purchases on your cash back card.

Credit card issuers that offer card locks

Most credit card issuers offer some type of card lock or credit card freeze. Here’s how to get a card lock or set up a credit card freeze with some of the biggest credit card issuers:

American Express

You can quickly freeze and unfreeze your American Express credit card by logging into your account or using the American Express App. Freezing your Amex card prevents it from being used for new purchases, but recurring bills and subscriptions will not be affected. You will still be able to make purchases through a digital wallet while your card is frozen, and you may be able to make purchases at online retailers if your card is already stored as a method of payment.

If you do not unfreeze your card within seven days, American Express will automatically unfreeze it for you.

Bank of America

Bank of America allows you to lock and unlock debit cards, but does not offer the same feature for credit card accounts. If you want to lock or unlock a Bank of America debit card, log into your online account or use the Mobile Banking app. Locking your debit card will prevent new purchases, but recurring transactions and scheduled bill payments will still go through.

Capital One

Capital One’s card lock feature can be accessed through the Capital One Mobile app. Locking your credit card prevents new purchases, and you can unlock your card when you are ready to start using it again.

Chase

You can easily lock and unlock your Chase credit card or debit card through the Chase Mobile app. Locking your card prevents new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers. Recurring transactions will still go through, and you can still make purchases through a digital wallet.

Citi

Use Citi Quick Lock in the Citi Mobile App or in your online account to lock and unlock your Citi credit cards. New charges will be blocked, but recurring transactions will continue to process as usual.

Discover

Setting up a credit card freeze with Discover prevents new purchases, balance transfers and cash advances. Recurring transactions, such as subscriptions, will still occur even while your card is frozen. You can easily freeze your account online, through the Discover Mobile App or over the phone, and you can freeze and unfreeze your account as often as you like.

Wells Fargo

You can temporarily turn off your Wells Fargo credit card account by logging into online or mobile banking. When your credit card is turned off, most types of new transactions will not be processed—but previously authorized recurring transactions will process as usual.

How to make the most out of a card lock

To make the most out of a card lock or credit card freeze, start by knowing when it’s time to get a card lock in place.

  • Do you want to keep yourself, a family member or an authorized user from making purchases on your credit card account? Freeze your credit cards and neither you nor anyone else will be able to make new purchases.
  • Worried that your credit card account has been compromised? Set up a card lock, then contact your credit card issuer to report your concerns.
  • Want to ensure that old credit card accounts remain active and in good standing? Put a small recurring charge on each card, set up auto-pay to ensure the credit card bills are taken care of and freeze the accounts to prevent yourself or anyone else from making new purchases on the cards.

The other way to make the most out of a card lock is to know when it’s time to lift the credit card freeze. If you can’t find a credit card, for example, get a card lock set up and then start searching the house for your missing plastic. If your credit card turns up, lift the freeze—but if it’s lost for good, contact your credit card issuer for a replacement.

You can even use credit card locks as budgeting tools. Let’s say you’ve got a credit card that rewards restaurants and takeout, but you don’t want to spend more than a certain amount of money on restaurants every month. Lock your credit card once you’ve hit your spending cap and unfreeze it at the beginning of the next month when your budget rolls over. That way, you can take advantage of a top rewards credit card without spending more than you can afford.

The bottom line

Locking a credit card prevents anyone from making new purchases on your credit card, and you can use credit card locks to keep your account safe, prevent impulse shopping or stick to a monthly budget.

In most cases, getting a card lock in place only stops new purchases—recurring transactions like subscription charges or monthly bills can still go through. If you want to set or lift a credit card freeze, log into your online credit card account or use your credit card issuer’s mobile app.