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Data breaches have unfortunately become a common occurrence. In the aftermath of breaches, some experts and pundits recommend consumers forgo fraud alerts and instead take the more aggressive measure of freezing their credit reports. If you're unsure which method is best for you, read about the differences between a credit freeze and a fraud alert.
Freezing your credit report can be a good move to help protect yourself from fraudsters stealing your information, opening accounts and spending money in your name. It also means that when you want to apply for credit, you will first need to unfreeze your report.
How to Unfreeze Your Credit Report
If you freeze your credit reports—which you have to do separately for each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion)—you'll likely want to unfreeze your credit information in the future. The reasons can range from applying for a new credit card, getting a mortgage or signing up for a cell phone contract to buying a new car, applying for insurance or applying for a job where the employer wants to check your financial background.
Because you establish your credit freeze at each of the three credit bureaus individually, you will need to unfreeze them at each bureau as well.
You have two options for unfreezing your credit reports:
- Temporary lift: This allows creditors to check your file for a set length of time, then restores the freeze.
- Permanent removal: This leaves your reports open until you request another freeze.
To unfreeze your credit, you'll need to use the secure PIN, or personal identification number, that you received when you originally requested a freeze. In most cases, if you make the request online or by phone, 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 to either request a new PIN or permanently lift your freeze.
How Much Does It Cost to Unfreeze Your Credit?
Prior to September 2018, state regulators controlled the fees charged for freezing and unfreezing credit reports. But thanks to a new nationwide law, the process of freezing is now simplified and free for all, no matter what state you reside in.
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.
Online Credit Freeze Resources
For more information and help with freezing and unfreezing your credit reports with the three major credit bureaus, check out these resources:
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.
This article was originally published on September 20, 2017, and has been updated.