How to Temporarily Unfreeze Your Credit
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A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, allows you to restrict access to your credit report. Since most creditors need to see your credit report before taking you on as a customer, this free tool can be one of your best weapons for stopping identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
A credit freeze is a good idea for anyone at risk of having their identity stolen, which now includes pretty much everybody, said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. “With the state of data breaches and data sharing, no one is immune,” she said. “We all should be operating from the sense that our data is valuable to the thieves, and if you already have a credit freeze in place when a breach happens, you’re ahead of the game.”
If you do decide to freeze your credit, it’s important to know how to unfreeze it. You can remove or temporarily lift credit freezes by contacting the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
What the law says about credit freezes
In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which grants Americans the right to freeze and unfreeze their credit for free with each of the three major credit bureaus. Parents may freeze the credit of their children under 16 years old for free, and guardians, conservators or those with a valid power of attorney may freeze the credit of those in their care for free.
There are clear rules for how quickly the credit bureaus must process freeze requests:
- If you request a freeze online or by phone: A freeze must be placed within one business day.
- If you request to lift the freeze online or by phone: A freeze must be lifted within one hour.
- If you request a freeze by mail: A freeze must be placed within three business days after the agency receives your request.
- If you request to lift the freeze by mail: A freeze must be lifted within three business days after the agency receives your request.
Please note that residents of Washington, D.C. may have to submit a request in writing to permanently remove a security freeze.
How to unfreeze your credit at Experian
When you place a security freeze on your file, Experian (like the other bureaus) will provide you with a personal identification number (PIN) that you can use when you want to unfreeze your credit.
- Online: Fill out this online form with the necessary identifying information such as your Social Security number and PIN.
- Phone: Call 888-EXPERIAN and have your PIN ready.
- Mail: Submit a request by mail to Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013. You’ll need your PIN to unfreeze your credit.
How to unfreeze your credit at TransUnion
TransUnion recommended unfreezing your credit online for the quickest service. Even if you froze your credit via phone or mail, you can still unfreeze it online. You may need your TransUnion PIN to unfreeze your credit depending on the method you use.
- Online: Enroll in TransUnion’s online services. You won’t need your PIN to make changes to your freeze online or via the mobile app.
- Phone: Call 888-909-8872 and have your Social Security number, address, date of birth and PIN ready.
- Mail: Mail a letter stating your request (sample letter) to TransUnion, P.O. Box 160, Woodlyn, PA 19094.
How to unfreeze your credit at Equifax
You may need your Equifax PIN depending on how you choose to unfreeze your credit.
- Online: Create a myEquifax account. A PIN is not required for online freeze transactions with Equifax.
- Phone: Call 800-349-9960 and have your PIN ready.
- Mail: Download this form and follow the instructions. To unfreeze your credit via mail, you will need your PIN.
Credit lock vs. credit freeze
Be careful not to confuse a credit freeze with a credit lock. Although they work in similar ways, access to a free credit freeze is guaranteed by law. Credit locks, on the other hand, may carry monthly fees. One advantage to a lock is that it may go into effect quicker than a freeze and they can be easier to lift than thawing a credit freeze.
“For some people, paying for a little more convenience may be worth it,” Velasquez said.
How credit locks are similar to credit freezes
- Credit locks and credit freezes both restrict access to your credit file.
- Both make it more difficult for fraudsters to open new accounts in your name.
- To be fully protected, both must be placed with all three credit reporting agencies.
How credit locks are different from credit freezes
- You do not receive a PIN when you start a credit lock, and you usually won’t have to wait for a lock or unlock to go into effect. Note that an Equifax lock may take 24 to 48 hours to complete either process.
- You can complete the unlocking process via a computer or mobile app but not with a phone call.
- Credit reporting agencies may set and change lock fees at their discretion.
- Equifax offers free locks as a part of its post-breach credit monitoring, but Experian and TransUnion may charge monthly fees. Fees are usually around $20 per month.
Check out credit lock requirements for the bureaus here:
The bottom line
The ability to freeze and unfreeze your credit is a useful financial tool at your disposal, so be sure to familiarize yourself with your rights and the available options. Then you’ll be well-equipped to take steps to help protect your credit and identity.