The Bankrate promise
At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for .
A credit freeze is a security measure you can take to prevent new accounts from being fraudulently opened in your name. But that also means you can’t open a new account yourself while the freeze is in place.
Credit freezes work by blocking new creditors from reviewing your credit report. Consumers may initiate a credit freeze if they’re concerned about their information being in the wrong hands, such as in 2017 when millions of people’s data was compromised in the Equifax breach.
Expect to be required to unfreeze your credit report when you apply for a loan or a credit card. Others — like your bank — may also ask you to lift your security freeze.
Why banks review credit reports
Although typically banks don’t need to review credit reports when someone opens a checking or savings account, there are some exceptions where it may be necessary.
Financial institutions may check your credit if you’re enrolling in overdraft protection, according to TransUnion, one of the major credit bureaus. This may be the case if you opt for an overdraft line of credit, which allows you to borrow money to cover a transaction when there aren’t enough funds in your checking account.
You’ll pay interest on the amount loaned to you from an overdraft line of credit. As a result, a bank or credit union may want to pull your credit report.
“Because of the nature of an overdraft line of protection — and the fact that it can extend a good bit beyond the limit of your account — it makes it necessary for lenders to make sure you’re creditworthy before they approve you for that product,” says Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Even if you’re not enrolling in overdraft protection, it’s in banks’ and credit unions’ rights to pull your credit report to confirm your identity and review your financial profile.
Unfreezing your credit report to open a bank account
Not all banks and credit unions pull credit reports. More frequently, they may pull a report instead from a consumer agency like ChexSystems that can confirm whether you have a history of bouncing checks and mismanaging your bank accounts.
But in some cases banks may need additional verification. Ally Bank, for example, also pulls credit reports for some new and existing customers. Depending on your circumstances, you may need to lift your security freeze before opening an account.
“We review the customer’s application and if certain criteria are met, we will proceed with the account opening without lift of the customer’s credit freeze,” the bank said in a statement. “However, if we determine that additional verification is required, we will contact the customer directly and may ask the customer to lift the freeze for a short period of time to enable us to confirm our customer’s identity.”
Before applying for an account, ask your bank whether you’ll need to unfreeze your credit report. If your report isn’t available, your application could be put on hold or delayed, says John Ulzheimer, credit expert and president of the Ulzheimer Group.
You should also ask which credit bureaus your bank works with. UFB Direct, an internet bank, has a relationship with Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you froze your credit reports at all three bureaus, you would need to temporarily remove all of them before opening an account.
Another question you should ask is whether your bank uses a soft or hard pull to check your credit. A soft pull won’t affect your credit score. But a hard pull can have an impact on it depending on the other credit inquiries on your report, McClary says.
How to unfreeze your credit report
Find the PIN number you used when you placed the freeze. Then visit each credit bureau’s website or call to temporarily thaw your credit report. You can decide how long you want your credit information to remain unfrozen or whether you want the freeze lifted for a specific lender.
When you ask the credit bureau to unfreeze your credit report online or over the phone, it typically unfreezes within an hour, according to Experian. If you make the request by mail, then it may take up to three days.
Fees for unfreezing credit reports vary by state and by credit bureau, generally ranging from $3 to $10. In some states, it costs $12.
Financial institutions may review your credit report to verify your identity or assess your creditworthiness when you’re applying for a new account or for a certain product, like overdraft protection. Before applying for an account, it’s important to ask your bank whether they require an unfrozen credit report and which credit bureaus they work with. Then, you can temporarily unfreeze the report by making a request to the credit bureau.
— Amanda Dixon wrote a previous version of this article.