How to lift a credit freeze

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In a Nutshell

A credit freeze is a free tool that can help reduce your risk of identity theft by restricting access to your credit file. A credit freeze can be lifted — either temporarily or permanently — to allow creditors access to your credit reports.

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Placing a credit freeze on your credit reports can help reduce your risk of identity theft, but sometimes you’ll need to lift the freeze for credit or job applications.

If your identity is stolen, an immediate action plan is essential to try to make yourself — not to mention your finances — whole again. You should probably place a credit freeze on your credit reports right away. And, to help keep your personal information secure, it’s a good idea to leave the freeze in place.

But at some point, you’ll probably want to open a new credit card, finance a car or even apply for a mortgage, which all require a credit check. And if you’re applying for a job, some employers will check your credit as part of the hiring process. In that case, you’ll need to learn how to lift a credit freeze. Read on for more.



How to lift a credit freeze at each of the three major credit bureaus

In order to place or remove a credit freeze on your credit reports, you must contact each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) individually. It might be worth asking your potential creditor or employer which bureau it uses for credit checks. That way you’ll only have to lift the freeze with a single bureau instead of all three.

You can request credit freezes and reversals by phone, mail or online. You’ll likely need to provide your name, address, birthdate and Social Security number in order to place a freeze.

Each credit bureau will give you a unique PIN when you place a freeze on your file. Depending on how you’re doing it, you may need the PIN to temporarily lift or permanently remove the credit freeze in the future, so be sure to find it before beginning the process of lifting your freeze.

Here’s a rundown of how it works at all three major credit bureaus:

Equifax

A credit freeze can be added, temporarily lifted or permanently removed by creating an account on myEquifax. This account is a one-stop shop to monitor the status of your credit report.

Here’s how to contact Equifax.

Experian

Experian guides its customers to use its online Freeze Center to make changes to their credit file. A credit freeze can also be lifted by phone or mail. Besides offering temporary and permanent lifts, Experian also offers a one-time PIN that can be provided to a single company or creditor. That way, the company can check your credit without your having to ask for a credit freeze lift.

Here’s how to contact Experian.

An important note: When changing the status of your credit freeze, Experian requires the PIN that it originally provided you when instituting the credit freeze. You’ll need it no matter which method of contact is used.

TransUnion

TransUnion offers customers an online account to make changes to a credit freeze. You can also make changes through TransUnion’s mobile app, myTransUnion.

TransUnion allows you to schedule a credit freeze lift up to 15 days in advance. This scheduled lift differs from Experian’s single-use PIN in that it allows any creditor access to the credit report over the period of time that you choose.

A PIN is not required when you use the online account or myTransUnion mobile app, but it is required if you’re making the request via phone.

Here’s how to contact TransUnion.

Credit scores vs. credit reports

It’s important to note that a credit freeze only limits access to your credit reports — not your credit scores. You’ll still be able to access your scores without lifting the freeze, but you likely won’t be able to open any new accounts. Most creditors need access to your reports before giving you a line of credit.

Temporary lift vs. permanent lift

When lifting a credit freeze, you have a choice between a temporary lift and a permanent lift.

A temporary lift allows creditors or companies access to your credit reports within a specific date range, determined by you. This option is likely the smarter choice because you can set it and forget it. Once the temporary lift expires, the credit freeze is reinstituted without your having to do a thing, which can help keep you protected.

A permanent lift is a little bit of a bigger deal. Your once-frozen and secure credit reports are now more vulnerable. With the option of a temporary lift available, a permanent removal is not recommended if you have any reason to be concerned about the security of your information.

Timing and cost of lifting a credit freeze

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that both freezing your credit and lifting a freeze be free.

In terms of timing, a credit freeze must be removed no later than one hour after a credit bureau receives your request by phone or online. If you mail in a request to have a freeze lifted, credit bureaus have three business days after receiving it to lift the credit freeze.


What’s next?

If you know which credit bureau the company plans to run your credit through, you can save yourself time by lifting the freeze at that particular credit bureau rather than at all three. Not sure which credit bureau a certain creditor uses? Simply ask — creditors may be able to share that information with you. After all, they want your business!

Even if your credit is frozen, it’s always a good idea to continuously monitor your credit reports for unusual activity. You can brush up on signs of identity theft here.

It’s also good to know the differences between a credit freeze, credit lock and fraud alert so that you can be more prepared if you need to freeze you credit or remove a credit freeze in the future.


About the author: Sarah Schaut is a Canadian living in sunny Florida. She’s an economic crimes detective at a city police department and an expert in credit, fraud and mortgages. Read more.