How to Freeze and Unfreeze Your Credit
You’ve likely heard about something called a credit freeze in the last few years. Essentially, it’s a way to lock your credit report so that no one can access it. That means legitimate creditors and fraudsters alike. While putting your credit on ice has been free under federal law since 2018, many people have never done it. It’s meant to keep fraudsters away from your important data. It works, but there are other things you should understand before you do a credit freeze.
A survey of 1,050 U.S. adults found that while three-quarters of respondents said they were familiar with the credit freeze process, fewer than one-third had ever frozen their credit. Even worse, only 3% did so after learning about a data breach.
Here are some things you need to know.
What Freezing Your Credit Means
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report until you are ready to use it. If you apply for a loan or credit card and the freeze is in place, the bank or company will be blocked from viewing your credit report until you unfreeze it. They typically get a notification that your report is frozen and cannot proceed with the approval process until you unfreeze it.
When the freeze is in place, you will still be able to apply for a job, rent an apartment, or purchase insurance without lifting or removing it, notes the Federal Trade Commission.
You can temporarily unfreeze it if you do want to apply for new credit though.
How to Place a Credit Freeze
Get in touch with the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. You can place the freeze online, which is the most convenient, but you can also call them. You can reach Equifax at (888) 298-0045, TransUnion at (888) 909-8872, and Experian at (888) 397-3742. Placing a credit freeze online shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes for each bureau.
By law, the credit bureaus must put the freeze in place within one business day of a request. When you ask that the freeze be lifted (by phone or online) the credit bureaus must do so within one hour. One caveat: The agencies have three business days to act when requests are made by mail.
Save Your PINs to Unfreeze Credit
During the process of freezing your credit, you will receive PINs that you must have to unfreeze your credit later on. Be sure to write them down and put them in a safe place. While all of the major bureaus have procedures to retrieve lost PINs, none of them are quick. At least one requires a request by mail, including proof of identity. Always save your PINs where they’re safe and accessible to you.
To unfreeze your credit, return to the bureau(s) website and follow their instructions to unfreeze your credit. If you’re applying for a loan or credit card, ask the company which bureau they pull, Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian. You should be able to unfreeze just that one and leave the other two frozen.
Don’t Forget the Kids
Parents are allowed to freeze credit for children younger than 16. Research shows that in recent years more than 1.3 million children have been victims of identity theft on an annual basis. If a child’s Social Security number is compromised, the fraud can often go undetected for years.
When it comes to your children, the existence of a credit report for a child is a red flag that something isn’t right. On the bright side, knowing about the problem sooner rather than later is the first step in clearing it up.
Check Your Credit Reports (and your child’s!)
Under federal law, everyone is entitled to receive a free copy of their credit report from each credit reporting company every 12 months. You can get a free copy of your credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Money FCU members also have access to their credit score and full TransUnion report through My Credit. Money FCU offers this service to all of our members for free. It’s accessible through the mobile app and online banking and takes just minutes to enroll.
- Check your credit score daily
- Get credit alerts and monitoring
- Check your report for errors
- Prevent fraud
We’re Here to Help!
If you have questions about your credit report, simply call, chat, text, or stop in. We’re happy to review it with you! Our team is available M-F, 9am-4pm ET.