credit & debt

You Can Now Freeze -- and Unfreeze -- Your Credit Report for Free

As of September 21, credit bureaus can no longer charge you to freeze your credit reports or to lift a freeze. Here’s what you need to know to get your free freeze.

Question: I remember reading a while back that everyone starting this fall will be able to freeze their credit report for free. Is this change effective now, and what do I need to do to get my free freeze?

Answer: The law providing free credit freezes took effect on September 21. The three big credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—can no longer charge a fee to place or lift a credit freeze. In the past, the cost to freeze your credit report varied by state. Some states required free credit freezes for their residents, but others let the credit bureaus charge $5 to $10 every time someone wanted to freeze their credit record or lift the freeze (when applying for a loan, for instance).

A credit freeze prevents new creditors from reviewing your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to take out credit in your name. For it to be effective, you’ll need to contact each of the credit bureaus separately to initiate a freeze. To see what steps you need to take, go to the Equifax freeze page, the Experian freeze page and the TransUnion freeze page.

Once you request a freeze either online or by phone, the new law requires the credit bureaus to implement it within one day. And if you ask for the freeze to be lifted, the credit bureaus have one hour to do it. “That is the law’s maximum time, but for most people setting the freeze online or by phone, it will be pretty close to instantaneous,” says Francis Creighton, the president of the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade organization for credit bureaus and other consumer reporting agencies.

Some states have additional consumer protections. In Utah, for example, the credit bureaus must initiate or lift the freeze within 15 minutes of the request for a freeze on a mobile app, says Rep. Jim Dunnigan, who sponsored the credit freeze legislation in the Utah House of Representatives (Utah’s law took effect in May). You can find out about additional consumer protections in your state from its division of consumer protection or the state attorney general’s office.

The freeze remains in effect until you take steps to remove it—either temporarily or permanently. “Understanding the correct terminology is important,” says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “A thaw (or unfreezing) of one’s credit allows them to temporarily remove the freeze for a specified period of time. For example, if a consumer knows they will be applying for credit, they can request a thaw for a day, or a week or another specified time period. And after that time period has elapsed, the credit will freeze again—no additional action is necessary on the part of the consumer.” Lifting a credit freeze, on the other hand, removes the freeze until the consumer actively requests the freeze from the credit bureau again. It’s free whether you lift or thaw a freeze.

The new law also lengthens the duration of a fraud alert that you can place on your credit file from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert signals to businesses that you may have been a victim of identity theft and that they should verify your identity before opening any new accounts. You need only place a fraud alert with one credit bureau, which will notify the others.

For more information about protecting yourself against identity theft, see The Equifax Data Breach: What You Should Do. Also see the Identity Theft Resource Center’s How to Place a Credit Freeze guide.

Most Popular

The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth
personal finance

The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth

For some down-to-earth, basic advice on money and life, I have a book to recommend: “Your Total Wealth: The Heart and Soul of Financial Literacy.”
April 17, 2021
Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs
Coronavirus and Your Money

Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs

People have lots of questions about the new $3,000 or $3,600 child tax credit and the advance payments that the IRS will send to most families in 2021…
April 14, 2021
2021 Child Tax Credit Calculator
Tax Breaks

2021 Child Tax Credit Calculator

See how much money you'll get in advance under the new child tax credit rules for 2021.
April 14, 2021

Recommended

The Hazards of Buy Now, Pay Later
Smart Buying

The Hazards of Buy Now, Pay Later

Breaking up payments can make a big purchase seem cheaper, which can tempt you to overspend.
March 31, 2021
Get Free Weekly Credit Reports for Another Year
Coronavirus and Your Money

Get Free Weekly Credit Reports for Another Year

Take advantage of the extension to check each report for errors or signs of fraudulent activity.
March 26, 2021
The IRS Can Take Your Recovery Rebate Credit for Child Support or Other Debts Owed
Coronavirus and Your Money

The IRS Can Take Your Recovery Rebate Credit for Child Support or Other Debts Owed

Most restrictions put in place to protect your stimulus check from garnishment don't apply to Recovery Rebate tax credits.
March 17, 2021
How to Keep Tabs on Your Credit Report
Coronavirus and Your Money

How to Keep Tabs on Your Credit Report

Free weekly access is ending, but several services let you view your credit files more than once a year.
March 5, 2021