Freezing your credit is an excellent way to protect yourself against identity theft in a world where data breaches and hacks are becoming more and more common. During the 2017 Equifax data breach, for example, over 140 million Americans had their personal information exposed.
Freezing your credit reports can help prevent identity thieves from using leaked personal information to apply for credit in your name; if a thief did use your information to request credit, the lender would attempt a credit inquiry, learn that the credit reports were frozen, and deny the request.
But credit freezes aren’t designed to last forever. At some point, you’ll need to lift the freeze your credit, maybe because you’re applying for a new credit card or a new apartment.
Here’s what you need to know about how to thaw a credit freeze.
How do you thaw a credit freeze?
It’s very easy to thaw a credit freeze online. Visit Equifax, Experian and TransUnion and follow the instructions to complete the process. Here are quick links for each bureau:
- Equifax: https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/
- Experian: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
- TransUnion: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze
Equifax and TransUnion will require you to create an online account before requesting a credit thaw, even if you previously froze your credit without an account. Be prepared to provide basic personal information such as your name, address and Social Security Number.
Experian does not require you to create an account, but you’ll still need to provide personal identifying information — and the PIN you created when you froze your credit — before you can request a credit thaw. (If you forgot or lost your PIN, keep reading; we’ve got options below.)
You can also thaw a credit freeze over the phone or by mail.
How long does it take for your credit report to lift?
If you thaw your credit report online or over the phone, the credit bureaus will unfreeze your credit within one hour of the request—so keep that in mind before beginning a transaction that requires a credit report inquiry.
In other words: if you plan to apply for a credit card, compare personal loan rates, or do anything that requires a hard or soft pull on your credit—including setting up utilities in a new home, which many people don’t realize includes a credit inquiry—thaw your credit reports at least one hour before submitting the application.
If you thaw your credit report via mail, the credit bureaus have three business days to complete the request, as per FTC regulations.
Does it cost money to lift your credit report?
It does not cost money to thaw your credit report—and you can thank the federal government for that. Prior to September 21, 2018, some states allowed the credit bureaus to charge fees to consumers who wanted to freeze or thaw their credit. However, after the massive Equifax data breach, Congress passed a law requiring all credit bureaus to allow consumers to both freeze and lift their freeze credit for free.
Can you lift your credit for a specific time period?
If you only want to thaw your credit for a short period of time, you can request to temporarily lift the freeze on your credit. When you complete the credit thaw process online, you’ll have the option to limit the thaw to a set of dates — starting immediately or starting in the future. Once the selected period of time is over, your credit will automatically freeze again.
You can also request a temporary thaw by mail or over the phone.
What should you do if you lose your credit freeze PIN?
When you freeze your credit with TransUnion or Experian, you’ll be asked to create a unique PIN that you might need to provide in order to thaw your credit in the future. It’s important to write your PIN down after you create it, and to keep that information in a safe place, but it’s also very easy to lose track of where you stored your PIN. (I’ve done it myself!)
If you do lose your credit freeze PIN, visit the appropriate credit bureau and follow the online instructions to retrieve your PIN. Here are quick links to the appropriate section of each bureau’s website:
- Equifax: https://help.equifax.com/s/article/How-do-I-replace-a-lost-security-freeze-PIN
- Experian: https://www.experian.com/ncaconline/freezepin
- TransUnion: https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/credit-freeze-faq#manage-pin
Be aware that the credit bureaus are starting to phase out the PIN. Equifax is no longer requiring users to provide PINs in order to thaw their credit — so if you’ve lost your Equifax PIN, use the above link to create a MyEquifax account that will let you freeze and thaw your credit PIN-free. TransUnion requires you to provide a PIN to freeze or thaw your credit over the phone, but you don’t need a PIN to freeze or thaw your credit through your TransUnion online account or the TransUnion mobile app.
Protect your personal information
Some consumers prefer to keep their credit reports frozen in order to protect themselves and their finances from identity thieves. However, what gets frozen must get thawed, so knowing how to unfreeze your credit, either on a temporary or permanent basis, is an important part of the process.
Luckily, the three major credit bureaus make it easy to freeze and lift the freeze on your credit reports as often as you need to. Since you no longer have to pay a fee to freeze or thaw your credit, consider making credit freezes and thaws an everyday part of your financial management.