Credit Frozen? Here’s How to Lift It
Your credit score is a number that lenders use to assess your creditworthiness. The higher your number, typically on a scale of 300 to 850, the more likely you are to pay your bills on time and generally exhibit good credit behavior. The lower your number, the better the chances you’ll miss payments or default on your debt. (You want a higher score.)
Today it’s possible to “freeze” your credit, which can prevent new credit from being opened in your name without your consent.
Why would a consumer freeze their credit?
Primarily, freezing your credit is a safety measure. Since credit freezes restrict access to your credit file, they make it difficult for an identity thief to use your personal information to open a fraudulent account. This is particularly timely now that data breaches at big companies seem commonplace. In 2018 alone, there were breaches at Google, T-Mobile and Orbitz, among others.
While freezing your credit can give you greater peace of mind, it’s not ideal when you need new credit — for instance, if you are applying for a mortgage or a car loan. In that case, you would need to unfreeze your credit.
How can you lift or thaw a credit freeze?
If you want to apply for new credit for any reason, you’ll have to unfreeze your credit or “thaw” it out. For some unfreeze requests, you’ll need the PIN number you picked when you froze your credit. There are three ways you can go about doing this, although not all credit bureaus offer all three options:
- Unfreeze the account: This takes the freeze entirely off of your credit report.
- Thaw the account: You can remove the freeze for a set timeframe.
- Allow one-time access: You may be able to give a lender a different/temporary PIN number to access your report just one time.
Here’s how you get it done at each of the three credit bureaus:
Visit experian.com/freeze or call 1-888-EXPERIAN to thaw or unfreeze your credit report. You can also submit a request by mail. (Note: Residents of Washington, D.C. are required to request a permanent unfreeze in writing.)
If you have an account on myEquifax, you can log in and temporarily or permanently lift the freeze on your credit report. You can also call their automated line at 800-349-9960 or submit your request by mail.
From the TransUnion app or your account online, select “Remove Credit Freeze” or “Temporarily Lift Freeze.” You can also make a request by mail or call TransUnion at 888-909-8872 to unfreeze your credit report through the automated system.
How long does it take to unfreeze your credit report?
If you’re requesting an unfreeze online or over the phone, it usually happens within minutes, and each bureau is required to lift a freeze within an hour if you call. If you request by mail, the agency has three business days after it receives your request. However, Experian suggested requesting an unfreeze or thaw at least 24 hours before the time you’ll need to apply for credit.
Does it cost money to freeze or unfreeze your credit?
As of September 2018, freezing and unfreezing your credit is free of charge, and you can also freeze the credit reports of children under age 16.
What’s the difference between a freeze and a lock?
Both locks and freezes can help prevent fraudsters from opening new credit in your name. However, credit freezes are regulated by law, while credit locks are a service each credit bureau offers. Hence, there are more protections built into credit freezes. While the credit bureaus market the convenience of their lock services, which may allow you to lock and unlock your credit easily via the bureau’s app, the legal protections on credit freezes may be better for peace of mind.
Additionally, not all credit lock services are free — Experian, for instance, charges about $25 a month for its credit lock service after the introductory month. And to continue your credit lock, you must continue your subscription to each bureau’s service.
The bottom line
Freezing your credit is a great way to help protect yourself against identity thieves who might want to take out credit in your name. And thankfully, freezing and unfreezing your credit is easier than ever — and free. Just remember to contact all three major credit bureaus.