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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, visit Experian's Security Freeze Center or call 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742).
How to Unfreeze Your Credit
When you freeze your credit report, the credit bureau may furnish or let you create a personal identification number (PIN) or password for use when lifting the freeze.
When you request a credit freeze online or by phone, the credit bureau will freeze your credit within 24 hours of your request; they will lift a freeze within one hour if you use your PIN or password. It's possible to thaw your credit without your PIN or password, but you'll need to prove your identity, and the one-hour time window to lift the freeze will no longer apply.
If you're applying for a loan or credit card and want lenders to have access to your credit reports, you have three options for suspending 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.
- One-time access: This generates a special single-use password or PIN you can give a creditor to allow them to perform a credit check. This is useful if, for example, you're applying for instant credit approval at a retailer, or in other situations where you're applying to only one lender.
- 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 have a credit freeze in place and expect to unfreeze it frequently, you might find it convenient to lock your credit instead. This allows you to block and release access to your credit report instantly using a smartphone app or secure website. Unlike credit freezes and thaws, which are always free to use, credit lock may be 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.