If you have been holding off on freezing your credit report because you’d have to pay a fee, wait no longer. Today — one year and 14 days since Equifax originally announced hackers had exposed the sensitive information of more than 146 million consumers — a federal law making it free for consumers to freeze and thaw their credit reports goes into effect.
The provision rolled into the federal Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act makes it free to place, lift and permanently remove a freeze on your credit report with credit reporting agencies, regardless of the state you live in.
How will the new law affect me?
Before the law went into effect, it cost consumers anywhere from $2 to $12 to freeze, thaw or permanently remove a freeze a credit report depending on the law in the state they lived in. Only three states (Indiana, Maine and South Carolina) allowed free credit freezes.
Barring protected consumer status or proven identity theft, a consumer generally needed to pay a fee to each of the three major credit reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to complete each credit freeze-related action. For example, it could have cost someone living in Colorado $30 to simply freeze their credit reports (paying $10 to each reporting bureau) and another $36 to thaw or permanently lift the credit freeze on each report.
Now, the big three credit reporting bureaus and other smaller credit reporting agencies are required by federal law to allow all consumers to freeze, thaw and permanently unfreeze their credit reports, free of charge.
Under the law, a reporting agency must notify a consumer of the placement or removal of a credit freeze within one business day if the request was made online or over the phone and within three business days if the request was made by mail.
The new law also applies the following changes:
- The credit reporting bureaus must also provide a webpage that allows consumers to request a credit freeze or place a yearlong fraud alert on their credit report. Prior to the law, initial fraud alerts lasted 90 days.
- The webpage must also allow a user to opt out of sharing their information with companies for the purpose of advertising credit or insurance.
- The Federal Trade Commission must also set up a webpage that will list the links to the credit freeze pages for each credit reporting agency.
- The law requires credit reporting agencies to provide free electronic credit monitoring to all active duty members of the U.S. military.
What is a credit freeze?
A credit freeze, or security freeze, restricts access to a consumer’s credit report. This prevents others from using your information to commit financial fraud.
Neither you nor fraudsters will be able to open new accounts in your name while the credit freeze is in effect. If you are applying for new credit, you can temporarily lift the freeze from your credit report, which is also referred to as thawing the freeze.
A credit freeze does not affect your existing creditors’ access to your credit report if the creditor is conducting account activities like credit monitoring and credit line increases or if they need to place the account in collections.
A warning: The credit freeze doesn’t prevent thieves from using your information to commit all forms of identity theft. The credit freeze only protects against forms of fraud that require access to your credit report.
The credit freeze also won’t stop you from getting prescreened credit offers. However, the new law requires reporting agencies to allow you to opt out of sharing information with companies for the purpose of advertising credit or insurance to you.
How to freeze your credit report
To freeze, thaw or permanently unfreeze your credit report you need to notify each of the three major credit reporting agencies separately. You can contact each bureau online, via phone or by mail.
Equifax: 1-800-685-1111 (1-800-349-9960 for New York residents)
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). Press 2.
Send a letter to each credit bureau by certified mail requesting the freeze. Here are the addresses.
Equifax: Equifax Security Freeze/P.O. Box 105788/Atlanta, GA 30348
Experian: Experian Security Freeze/P.O. Box 9554/Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: TransUnion LLC/P.O. Box 2000/Chester, PA 19016
Mobile app options exist to put restrictions on consumer’s credit report information, as well:
Note: A credit report lock isn’t exactly the same thing as a credit freeze, though they serve the same purpose. Freezing your credit reports can only be done by phone, mail or the online portals above. Lock/unlock services allow you briefly grant or prohibit access to your credit report using online and mobile apps.
TrueIdentity app by TransUnion — Allows those enrolled in free True Identity service to instantly lock and unlock credit reports.
Lock & Alert by Equifax — Allows consumers to lock and unlock credit reports for free.
IdentityWorks by Experian — Allows those enrolled in IdentityWorks Plus or IdentityWorks Premium services to lock and unlock credit reports. The IdentityWorks Plus and CreditWorks Premium services charge fees.