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A credit freeze, also called a security freeze, helps stop identity thieves from taking out credit in your name by limiting new creditors from accessing your credit report. A freeze doesn't only secure your report against criminals, however: It limits all credit inquiries, even those that result from legitimate credit applications. This means that you'll need to lift the security freeze to apply for a new credit card.
Luckily, it's straightforward to lift the freeze, and there are options for unfreezing or "thawing" your credit without leaving yourself open to identity theft. That way, you can apply for credit without losing sleep.
How a Credit Freeze Works
Freezing your credit can help protect you from fraud by limiting who can access your credit file. You might choose to start a credit freeze after learning your personal information has been compromised in a data breach or after being targeted by an identity thief.
It's free to freeze your credit file, and it won't impact your credit. Note that you'll need to request a credit freeze with all three major credit bureaus to achieve the most protection.
To start a credit freeze through Experian, simply sign up for free or log in to your existing Experian account.
Why You Need to Lift a Credit Freeze to Apply for Credit
Freezing your credit provides you with added security by limiting access to your credit report from new creditors. The downside here is that freezing your credit will also limit legitimate, authorized creditors from accessing your report in order to assess your creditworthiness when you apply for a card.
Because you must allow a creditor to access your credit history when you apply for new credit, you'll need to lift the credit freeze when you apply for a credit card. The same applies to mortgages and other loans.
Luckily, it's free and easy to unfreeze your credit report before you apply for a new credit card.
How to Unfreeze Your Credit Report
Unfreezing your Experian credit report online is a fast process: Your request will go into effect in near real time. Note that if you aren't sure which credit bureau your lender will use to pull your report, you'll need to thaw your credit through all three (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) individually.
There are two options for lifting a credit freeze.
Temporarily Lift the Freeze
If you still want the protection a freeze provides but need to give creditors short-term access to your file, a temporary thaw could be a smart move.
You can choose to lift the security freeze for a day, a week or however long you think is necessary to complete your credit application. The freeze will be restored automatically at the end of the timeframe you select.
To temporarily lift your credit freeze online, go to Experian's Credit Freeze Center to create an Experian account or sign in to your account to schedule a thaw, which temporarily removes the freeze on your report.
Permanently Unfreeze Your Report
Proceed cautiously when permanently unfreezing your credit report. A security freeze provides you with armor against identity theft and fraud. If you believe you're being targeted, you probably want to keep that protection. If, however, you froze your report as a precaution, permanently unfreezing your credit file may be a good option for you.
To permanently unfreeze your report, start in the Security Freeze Center to create an account or log in to your existing Experian account to remove your freeze.
Keep in mind, you can also guard against potential identity theft using a fraud alert. Like a security freeze, a fraud alert puts on the brakes when creditors check your credit due to an application—but instead, a fraud alert requires creditors to take extra measures to verify your identity. That way, you don't need to take any action: The creditor will reach out to you when necessary to verify your identity. To place a fraud alert on your credit report, go to Experian's Fraud Alert Center.
The Bottom Line
Freezing your credit can reduce your risk of exposure to identity theft and fraud by limiting new creditors from accessing your report. When you're ready to apply for a new credit card, you'll need to provide access to your creditor by lifting the freeze.
Whatever you choose, continue monitoring your credit through Experian to keep an eye on all activity and detect potential fraud before damage occurs.