After one of the three major credit bureaus suffered a massive data breach, many consumers realized the need to freeze their credit report to protect themselves from identity theft and fraud.
Freezing your credit report, technically called a security freeze, locks your credit report to inquiries from new companies. When your credit report is frozen and a thief tries to apply for credit in your name, the application would presumably be turned down because the business can’t check your credit. Freezing your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus is best for maximum protection from fraud and identity theft.
The Cost To Freeze Your Credit Report
It’s now free to freeze and unfreeze your credit report. A new law requires credit bureaus––including the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion––to allow you to place or lift a credit freeze for free. The new law also requires credit bureaus to remove a credit freeze in an hour––as long as you make the request online or by phone.
Before the law went into effect, each credit bureau charged up to $15 to freeze or unfreeze your credit report.
Credit bureaus have also created their own lock/unlock subscription features that consumers could easily confuse with a credit freeze. The subscription can be tempting since it's often promoted with other convenient credit services like credit monitoring or additional credit reports. However, using a credit bureau lock service may bind you to their terms and provide less legal protection than you'd receive through a regular credit freeze.
When To Unfreeze Your Credit Report
Unfreezing your credit report––also known as "thawing" in the credit industry––is a temporary lift of the freeze for a specific period of time. This allows you to make your applications in the short window before your credit freezes again automatically. Permanently removing the credit freeze is known as lifting the credit freeze. You’ll have to specifically request to add the credit freeze again if you want to protect your credit against unauthorized credit inquiries.
Here are a few instances where you should temporarily or permanently unfreeze your credit report.
- Applying for a credit card or loan: You should unfreeze your credit report when you’re getting ready to apply for a credit card or loan. With a freeze in place, the credit card issuer or lender can’t pull your credit report to determine whether you qualify for the loan. And without your credit report, your application may be denied.
- Looking for a house or apartment: It's also a good idea to unfreeze your credit report before going house or apartment hunting. Whether you’re renting or buying, you’ll likely go through a credit check. Utility companies will also check your credit when you’re establishing new services after you move.
- Shopping for a new phone: This also requires a credit check unless you’re planning to pay for the phone in cash upfront. Most cellphone providers allow you to pay for your new smartphone in installments, often with no interest, but they check your credit first to figure out how much you must pay down. This goes for non-prepaid cellphone service plans, too.
- Job hunting: If you’re planning to look for a job soon or if you’re up for promotion, unfreeze your credit report. You’re more likely to go through an employment credit check for financial and upper-level management positions or a position where you’ll deal with a lot of money.
Since you can't predict which of your credit reports a business might check, you should unfreeze all three. Make sure you allow enough time to complete your application process before freezing your credit reports again.
Unfreezing Your Credit Report
When you're ready to unfreeze your credit report, you have a few options. You can do it online, by phone, or by mail. Unfreezing your credit report online or over the phone are the faster options.
Make sure you have the PIN or password that was provided to you when you first placed the freeze on your credit report. Unfortunately, if you lose your PIN, you may have to request a replacement PIN by mail, sending along proof of your identification. This would slow down your application process. Otherwise, unfreezing your credit report is relatively simple.