Fact Checked

New law to make credit freezes free

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You will now be able to freeze (and unfreeze) your credit files at no charge, thanks to a new bill that President Trump recently signed into law.

The credit freeze provision — included in a broader bill that rolled back certain requirements on banks — comes on the heels of a 2017 Equifax breach that exposed personal information on 147.9 million people.

Under the new law, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion will be required to let consumers freeze and unfreeze their credit reports free of charge. They must also implement procedures to make it easier for consumers to do this.

Plus, under the law initial fraud alerts will last for one year instead of the current 90 days.

The new legislation goes into effect Sept. 21.

What does this mean?

A credit freeze is a powerful way for consumers to reduce their risk of identity theft. When you institute a credit freeze it restricts access to your credit report and prevents credit card issuers or other lenders from viewing your report.

This can make it more difficult for identity thieves because most lenders won’t open a new account without reviewing your credit reports first.

The new law improves the process for consumers who are looking to freeze and unfreeze (or “thaw”) their credit reports. Each credit bureau must set up a web page for requesting credit freezes and act on requests that come in online or over the phone within one business day of receiving the request. If a request is made by mail, the bureau will have three business days to freeze the credit report after receiving the request.

But remember, credit freezes can make it more difficult to apply for new credit cards and other loans, such as mortgages. Unfreezing your report may take one to three business days, which might not be convenient if you’re in a rush to apply for a new line of credit. You’ll usually have to use a personal identification number to lift the freeze. The credit bureaus give you a PIN when you initiate a freeze. Make sure you keep track of your PIN so you don’t need to go through the trouble of tracking it down when it’s time to unfreeze.

Why should you care?

Free credit freezes may not only give consumers peace of mind, but they could also save them money.

Previously, it could cost up to $30 for consumers in certain states to freeze their credit reports from the three major credit bureaus, a fee that could double if they needed to unfreeze their reports.

But if your personal information has been stolen, the cost of not freezing your credit reports could be even higher. Victims of identity theft can face financial difficulties as a result of any debt racked up by fraudsters.

What can you do?

  • You can freeze for free with Equifax. If you’re concerned you might be a victim of identity theft and want to freeze your Equifax® credit report, go ahead and contact Equifax, because this credit bureau will continue to offer this service for free. Starting on Sept. 21, you can also request that TransUnion and Experian freeze your credit files for free.
  • Consider placing a fraud alert on your accounts. You might consider placing an initial fraud alert on your accounts. All three bureaus offer this service free of charge. While you must reach out to each credit bureau separately to request a credit freeze, you only need to contact one bureau to initiate a fraud alert on your reports from all three. Then it becomes that bureau’s responsibility to notify the two other bureaus.
  • Monitor your identity. You should regularly review your credit reports to check for unusual activity.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.