If you’re worried about data breaches putting your financial information at risk, you may have placed a credit freeze with the three major credit bureaus. A freeze drastically limits access to your credit files to protect you from someone else fraudulently opening new accounts in your name.
But someday you may want to open a new account yourself or let someone like a landlord or potential employer see your credit file. Here’s how to temporarily unfreeze your credit.
What are my choices for unfreezing credit?
- Lift a freeze for a certain number of days. You might do this if you’re shopping for a mortgage or car loan or applying for a credit card.
- Allow access to a specific creditor, for example, when a potential landlord wants to check your credit. This option isn’t available in all states.
While credit bureaus warn that the process of lifting a freeze can slow down an application, a freeze often can be lifted in less than 15 minutes if you do it online. If you unfreeze your credit via mail, expect it to take considerably longer.
A freeze often can be lifted in less than 15 minutes if you do it online.
You may have to pay a fee. Where you live, your age and whether you were a victim of identity theft can affect whether and how much you have to pay. Consider asking a creditor or landlord which credit bureau’s report or score will be pulled so you can unfreeze only that one, saving you time and money.
While your freeze is lifted, consider using the opportunity to sign up for a free credit report or score service. That will give you a way to monitor your score regularly and report information for changes.
Permanently lifting a credit freeze is also an option, but NerdWallet doesn’t recommend giving up the protections a freeze gives you. Temporarily lifting a freeze occasionally is much less trouble than unwinding the effects of identity theft.
How to unfreeze credit with Equifax
You can unfreeze your credit on Equifax’s website, by phone or by mail. Equifax recommends that identity theft victims request the freeze lift by mail so they can include documentation, such as a police report. The website says you can choose to unfreeze your credit temporarily for a specific creditor or for a specified period — from one day to one year.
Contact info: Equifax; Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348; 800-685-1111 (New York residents, 800-349-9960)
Fees: Through Jan. 31, there is no fee to place or lift a security freeze, as a result of consumers’ objections after the data breach Equifax announced in September.
If you lose your PIN: Request a new PIN via mail, sending proof of identity. Check to see if there is a fee in your state.
How to unfreeze credit with Experian
You can go online, call or mail a request to lift your Experian freeze. You can request that a freeze be lifted for a specific time; there’s no maximum. The online form warns, however, that you can’t change the date range for the freeze lift once you’ve submitted it.
Experian also offers a single-use PIN that can help ensure your information is seen only by a creditor you authorize, so it isn’t exposed needlessly. Experian gives you the PIN, and you give it to the entity checking your credit.
Contact info: Experian; Experian Security Freeze, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013; 888-397-3742
Fees: You may have to pay a fee to unfreeze credit with Experian; look for your state in the list at the bottom.
If you lose your PIN: The simplest, quickest way to get your PIN is to retrieve it via the Experian “freeze center” webpage linked above. You can also request it by mail after sending a copy of your proof of identity. Or call 888-397-3742, and an automated system will let you request that Experian mail a PIN reminder to you.
How to unfreeze credit with TransUnion
You can go online, call or write. For online freeze lifts, TransUnion requires you to sign in with your username and password; you would have set those up when you placed the freeze or if you’ve disputed anything on your credit report. Once signed in, you also need the PIN issued when you froze your credit.
You can lift the freeze for one to 30 days, beginning on a start date you pick. You can lift the freeze for a time or for certain creditors for whom you can create an access code to be used during a limited time. This differs from Experian’s single-use code because it can give multiple creditors access to your file during the time window.
Contact info: TransUnion TransUnion LLC, P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016, 888-909-8872
Fees: You may have to pay a fee to temporarily unfreeze your credit. The cost is calculated from information contained in your TransUnion membership; you’ll need to look it up if you’re requesting to unfreeze your credit by mail so you can send payment.
If you lose your sign-in information or PIN: You can go online to get that information with your Social Security number, birthdate and answer to a challenge question. Once signed in to your TransUnion account, you can request a new PIN.