In the aftermath of the Equifax breach, many experts and pundits are recommending Americans to freeze their credit reports. Freezing your credit report can be a good move to help protect yourself from someone stealing your information, opening accounts and spending money in your name. But the day is likely to come when you'll want to unfreeze your credit information. The reason can range from taking out a new credit card, getting a mortgage, getting a cell phone contract, buying a new car, applying for insurance—or even a job where an employer wants to check your financial background.
In most states with their own statutes, once your credit report is frozen, it stays frozen until you unfreeze it. The exceptions are Kentucky, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, where any freeze automatically expires after 7 years. In the six states without their own credit-freeze laws—Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia—the terms of a freeze, as well as fees and all other aspects, are left up to the individual credit bureaus.
For details on security freezes and how to request a one in each state, read more here.
You have two ways to unfreeze your reports. A temporary lift allows creditors to check your file for a set length of time, then restores the freeze. A permanent removal leaves your reports open until you request another freeze.
To unfreeze your credit, you'll need to use the secure PIN that you received when you originally requested a freeze. In most cases, if you make the request by phone or online, the credit bureaus can lift a freeze in as little as 15 minutes, although the Federal Trade Commission gives them up to three business days. If you lose your PIN, you'll need to contact each bureau individually and can either request a new PIN or permanently lift your freeze. Kentucky, Maine, Montana and New Jersey allow bureaus to charge $5 or $10 for issuing a new PIN.
Typically, you'll pay $3 to $12 to remove a freeze, although there's no charge to unfreeze your reports in Delaware, Mississippi, Nebraska and Washington, D.C. Indiana and Kansas ban any type of fee on credit freezes.
Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota and Pennsylvania don't allow fees for permanently lifting a freeze, but allow fees of $3 to $10 for a temporary thaw. Tennessee, on the other hand, allows no free for a temporary lift, but a $5 for removing it permanently. Utah law only specifies that the bureaus must charge "reasonable fees."
If you know which credit bureau a potential creditor will be checking, you can save money by lifting the freeze at only that one bureau. In most states, anyone who proves they've been victims of identity theft can qualify to pay no fees for freezing or unfreezing their credit reports.
CreditLock for Experian Members
If you want the ability to lock and unlock your Experian credit report on the fly from your smartphone or Experian app without a PIN or a waiting period, Experian CreditWorksSM or Experian IdentityWorksSM members can do that through Experian CreditLock. Just like a credit freeze, CreditLock will prevent potential lenders from accessing your credit report, and Experian will alert you if we detect attempts to access your credit file while it is in a locked state.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.