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If you've placed a freeze on your credit report, as a precaution or because you've been a victim of fraud or identity theft, you'll need to "thaw" or unfreeze your report before applying for a credit card, loan or in-store financing. Here's why.
Why You Can't Apply for Credit With a Frozen Credit Report
A credit freeze is designed to prevent criminals from using your credit history for credit fraud or identity theft. Freezing your credit file at one of the national credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax) blocks access to that file.
When lenders process your credit applications, their customary first step is to request access to your credit report and, often, to seek a credit score based on that report. So, while a credit freeze prevents criminals from using your personal information to open bogus credit accounts, it also prevents you from using your credentials to obtain new credit. The good news is you can easily remove the credit freeze when you need to provide access to your credit file—and replace the freeze when you're done if you choose.
To use credit freezes to block all your credit reports, you must set up a separate freeze with each of the three credit bureaus. To request a free Experian security freeze, log in to your Experian account, visit Experian's Security Freeze Center or call 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742).
When you request a credit freeze through your account, Experian will freeze your report almost instantly. If you request a freeze by phone, we will freeze your credit within 24 hours of your request.
How to Unfreeze Your Credit
With an Experian account, you can manage your freeze by simply toggling the freeze status to frozen or unfrozen or scheduling a future thaw with an easy calendar option. When you toggle to unfrozen, Experian will lift your freeze within one hour.
If you're applying for a loan or credit card and want lenders to have access to your credit reports, you have two options for removing your credit freeze—each of which must be performed at all three credit bureaus to allow full access to your credit history:
- Temporary lift: This removes a credit freeze for a specified number of days, then reinstates the freeze afterward. It's useful when you're applying with multiple lenders to find the best rates and terms possible.
- Permanent lift: As the name suggests, this removes a credit freeze without reinstating it. It's not advisable if you know your personal data has been compromised, or if you've already been a victim of credit fraud. One exception is if you take other measures to protect yourself, such as adding a fraud alert to your credit reports. This requires lenders to verify your identity before proceeding with any credit applications.
Credit freezes may prevent or delay instant credit authorizations online or at retail checkouts, but they do not harm your credit or have any effect on your credit scores.
If you need a convenient way to freeze and unfreeze your credit combined with access to alerts, you might find it best to lock your credit instead. When you lock your credit with Experian CreditLock, you'll get an alert if there's an attempted inquiry on your report. This lets you know of possible fraud activity in real time. CreditLock is offered as part of premium subscription services, such as Experian's CreditWorksSM Premium, which features Experian CreditLock along with:
- Monthly credit reports from all three bureaus
- Alerts when there's new credit activity on your account
- Up to $1 million in identity theft insurance
- Phone assistance from Experian experts, in case you need help resolving credit fraud
The Bottom Line
While a credit freeze will prevent lenders from approving your credit applications until you lift it, it's a safe way to protect your credit, particularly if you've been the victim of identity theft or fraud. Even if you haven't, it's still a good idea to keep an eye on your credit report. Free credit monitoring with Experian will allow you to see your Experian credit report and score, and alert you anytime there is suspicious activity in your credit file.