One of the most important steps in purchasing a house is obtaining a mortgage, and to get the most competitive interest rate, it helps to have a strong credit score. But in today?s world ? when reports of confidential data being breached are commonplace on the nightly newscasts ? how can we ensure a strong credit rating?

The massive Equifax data breach, which exposed the personal information of millions of U.S. consumers, is just one recent example of personal data being stolen by online hackers. And if a large company like Equifax can?t protect this information, how can we be expected to safeguard our data?

One step would be to freeze your credit. A credit freeze prevents creditors from accessing your credit report, claims the Federal Trade Commission. It also prevents?credit, loans?and other unwanted services from being approved in your name without your consent, and it does not affect your credit score.?Basically, it limits the number of individuals who can see your credit report to you, existing creditors, debt collectors and certain government agencies.

Are there drawbacks associated with a credit freeze? Yes, there are. For example, if you freeze your credit and a creditor needs to access your credit report for reasons such as financing a home or vehicle, then you will need to temporarily unfreeze your account, which can take up to three business days. Additionally, there are usually some small fees involved when freezing your credit which vary from state to state.

While you may never know for certain if your confidential data has been breached, you should probably assume that it has been at some point. That being said, if you decide to freeze your credit, you?ll need to contact the leading credit reporting companies such as Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and Innovis?to initiate the process.?

For more information, please check out this recent article from USA Today:?