Card Lock: What It Does, Who Offers It, How to Use It - NerdWallet (2024)

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If you misplace your credit card, you can probably relieve some angst immediately: Many major credit card issuers now let you lock or freeze your card for free, so it can't be used by a thief.

But even when your card isn’t compromised, you can use its card-lock feature strategically for other reasons.

Here’s what to know.

» MORE: How to prevent credit card fraud

What is card lock?

Credit card companies call the feature different names, often using the terms "lock" or "freeze." To initiate an immediate lock or to cancel a lock, use your card issuer’s mobile app or log in to your online account to activate an on-off switch. Many debit card accounts also feature a lock.

The idea is that if you misplace a card, you can lock it, or essentially turn it off. That would prevent a thief from making fraudulent charges with a stolen card number. If you find the card, you can unlock it, or turn it back on — all without a call to your card issuer.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Credit locks and credit freezes offered by credit bureaus are entirely different. They are broader, restricting access to your credit files. That makes it harder for a thief to open new credit accounts in your name. They do not restrict spending on your credit card.

Why lock a card?

You’re usually not liable for fraudulent credit card charges anyway, but locking a card might reduce hassle later in reporting fraudulent charges. And if you misplaced a card and are likely to find it, locking it is less trouble than canceling a card and being issued a new card number, which could affect autopay billing accounts.

Beyond helping with misplaced cards, card lock gives a measure of control to consumers, who are often innocent bystanders in an era of rampant data breaches.

» MORE: First time dealing with credit card fraud? Here's what to know

Stop fraud in its tracks

With a NerdWallet account, you can see all of your credit card activity in one place and easily access your credit report to spot any red flags quickly.

Card Lock: What It Does, Who Offers It, How to Use It - NerdWallet (1)

Which transactions are locked?

When you lock a card, new charges and cash advances will be denied. However, recurring autopayments, such as subscriptions and monthly bills charged to the card, will continue to go through. Typically, so will bank fees, returns, credits, interest and rewards. Transactions that occurred before locking the card are unaffected.

Check with your issuer or its website to determine whether you have card lock and exactly how yours works, because locks work differently depending on the card issuer. For example, if the card is associated with a smartphone mobile payment app, such as Apple Pay, that may continue to work on a locked account. And cards differ on whether they allow balance transfers to go through when a card is locked.

Generally, a lock affects all cards with the same credit card number, which might affect authorized users of the card.

Some card locks or freezes remain until you unlock or thaw them. Other locks expire. For example, an American Express freeze expires in seven days.

Which issuers offer credit card locks?

Many issuers have added this feature in recent years. Here is a sampling of issuers and what they call the feature:

  • American Express freeze

  • Barclays SecurHold™

  • Capital One Card Lock

  • Chase lock/unlock

  • Citi Quick Lock

  • Discover Freeze it®

  • Wells Fargo Control Tower

Using card lock strategically

Besides locking a lost card, here are other ways you might use the feature:

Immediate response to a compromised card: If your card is part of a data breach or you’re already seeing fraudulent charges on your account, you can immediately shut off the card and then call the issuer. Those few minutes might prevent some fraudulent charges.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Locking your credit card is not a substitute for calling to cancel your card if it has, in fact, been permanently lost, stolen or fraudulently used.

Control impulse spending: Unrelated to security, you could lock all your credit cards and unlock them each time you make a purchase. That short delay fiddling with your phone might provide a cooling-off period during which you decide against an impulse purchase.

“Autopay and Everyday” strategy: If you designate a card for use with autopay only, you might as well lock it because recurring charges will still go through. Further, if you use only one card regularly, you could lock all others as a precaution.

Unused or seldom-used cards: You might be keeping open some credit cards because you’ve had them a long time, and that long history will help your credit scores. Lock unused cards as an extra measure of security.

Cutting off an authorized user: If yours is the type of card that turns off all credit cards associated with the account — Wells Fargo cards are an example — it could be a good way to control spending of an authorized user. For example, maybe you issued authorized user status to a child to help build their credit but don’t want them to actually charge anything to the card. And Barclays SecurHold™ allows you to set transaction limits for authorized users and block certain purchase categories.

Card Lock: What It Does, Who Offers It, How to Use It - NerdWallet (2024)


What does locking your card do? ›

Card Lock is a security feature which allows you to block new authorizations on your debit card and/or credit card. If you misplace your card, locking can prevent criminals from using your card, until you need to report the card as Lost/Stolen.

What is the credit card lock feature? ›

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.

How to unlock a credit card? ›

Depending on the reason for the block, you can unblock your credit card by calling the bank or credit card company and discussing the issue. You may need to go through extra steps such as: Answering security questions to confirm your ID. Negotiating your credit limit.

What does locking card temporarily do? ›

While it's locked, you won't be able to make any payments or withdrawals using your card or card details. You can continue to spend with your digital wallet while your card is locked. Any services or recurring payments you've set up using your card details will also continue to work.

How does card lock work? ›

Which transactions are locked? When you lock a card, new charges and cash advances will be denied. However, recurring autopayments, such as subscriptions and monthly bills charged to the card, will continue to go through. Typically, so will bank fees, returns, credits, interest and rewards.

Does locking your card stop purchases? ›

Locking a credit card prevents the card from being used to make most new purchases. Generally, your credit card company will continue to authorize any recurring charges you already approved, like subscription payments or automatic bill-pay.

Does locking your card stop direct deposit? ›

Direct deposit (ACH) credits are not typically linked to debit cards, so locking your debit card for spending would have no impact on your direct deposit, or any other deposit activity. There may be situations where you set up direct deposits to a card account that has no underlying checking account.

What happens when you lock credit? ›

Both a credit lock and credit freeze block access to your credit report. They prevent anyone from opening a new account in your name, such as a credit card or loan. Freezing or locking your credit are some of the protection options TransUnion offers to help you manage your credit and safeguard your identity.

Does locking your credit card stop transactions? ›

Locking your card means that all new purchases, cash advances, or other transactions, either online or in person, will be declined. Any interest or annual fees that apply to your account, or payments you make to your account, will still be processed.

What happens when someone tries to use a locked credit card? ›

A credit card lock is like a pause button. It puts a temporary hold on your credit card to ensure no one, not even you, can use it to make purchases. This lock is also known as a freeze. The lock feature is offered by many large credit card issuers and is most often available on apps and, in some cases, websites.

Can a locked card still be used? ›

Locking will typically prevent new transactions but leave automatic payments, such as bills, bank fees, and subscriptions, enabled. It also won't stop transactions that you initiated before locking the card. After locking, you may still be able to pay with the card using a digital wallet.

How do you get money off a locked card? ›

When you're speaking to the bank's fraud detection agent on the phone, ask if the bank will be willing to unlock your card long enough for you to make an ATM withdrawal of a specific amount you both agree to. After all, you'll have just validated your identity as the legal account holder.

Can I still transfer money if my card is blocked? ›

Can you still transfer money if your card is locked? No, it is not possible to transfer money via your ATM/debit card if it is locked.

How many times can you lock your card? ›

Card Lock Works like This

Your card will remain locked until you decide to unlock it. You can also block your card as many times as you need. Want to see which cards are locked? Manage which cards are locked when you log into Online Banking or the Mobile Banking App.

What happens when you temporarily lock your credit card? ›

While Your Card is Locked

When your card is locked, all cash advances, purchases and withdrawals either online or in person will be declined. You can still make payments to your credit card, pre-authorized payments will continue to be paid and you can use your RBC Rewards points while it's locked.

Can I still use my debit card if my account is locked? ›

Message and data rates may apply. When you place a lock on your debit or ATM card via Online or Mobile Banking, it will prevent most types of card transactions from being processed until you take action to unlock your card. Any virtual cards linked to the locked card will also be locked.

Does freezing your card stop pending transactions? ›

If I have a pending transaction when I freeze my card, will the transaction be paid? Yes. Transactions which have already been authorised will clear. It is only from the point that the lock is put in place that a initiated transaction will be declined.

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