If you’re wondering how long it takes to unfreeze your credit, here’s some good news: Due to government regulation, the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) must lift a credit freeze within one hour for all requests made online or by phone. Bureaus have three business days to lift freezes when they receive the requests by mail.
Here’s some information to help you understand how the unfreezing process works, and how long it takes for your credit to “thaw.”
How Do Credit Freezes Work?
The FTC describes a credit freeze as a free tool to restrict access to your credit report so that it is harder for thieves to open credit accounts in your name. The reason it makes life harder for identity thieves is that they can’t open a new account until a creditor reviews an applicant’s credit report, and a freeze prevents the creditor from that process.
In this way, a credit freeze protects your identity by “freezing” access to your credit reports by with the three largest credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Many people freeze their credit reports because as a cautionary measure against data breaches and identity theft. The credit freeze helps you safeguard against unauthorized access to your credit report without your knowledge.
It’s important to note, when you set a freeze on your credit the freeze only protects you from someone else opening credit in your name. The freeze does not protect against someone stealing your personal information. It also does not defend against tax fraud, employment fraud or account takeovers.
Thanks to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, credit freezes are free to consumers and they do not impact your credit score.
Freezing your credit report can be a good idea if you don’t apply for credit often. You can then unfreeze your credit whenever you want to apply for a new car loan, credit card, mortgage loan and the like.
You may also need to unfreeze your credit if your insurance companies need information from your credit report to determine your premium rates. In many states, insurance companies can use information from your credit report to determine your premium rates.
How Long Does It Take to Unfreeze Your Credit?
Fortunately, you can unfreeze your credit quickly, although the timeframe to unfreeze your credit depends on the method you use to request it.
For instance, if you request the lift online or over the phone, the three credit reporting agencies must lift a credit freeze in one hour. However, if you mail your request, the bureaus have three business days from the day they receive the request to lift the freeze.
Note that if you are looking to freeze credit for a minor, you must mail your request to the credit bureaus.
How Long Should You Unfreeze Your Credit
You have the option of freezing your credit permanently or temporarily.
To temporarily unfreeze your credit, you can instruct the bureaus to lift the freeze for a certain number of days. For example, if you’re shopping for a new car loan or a mortgage loan, you could lift the freeze for a specific time period to allow time to find the best loan for you.
If you are applying for a store credit card at BestBuy or Home Depot, you’ll find they generally run your credit on the spot. In this case, it may be wise to set a temporary 24-hour lift on your credit.
On the other hand, if you are submitting a rental application for an apartment, the landlord might not run your credit for several days. This means you’ll want to allow for a longer time period for your credit to be open.
Many experts recommend that you always set an expiration date with the credit bureaus when you unfreeze your credit. Having a set expiration time essentially works like automation, allowing you to restore the freeze without you having to remember to call the bureaus again.
Of course, you can set a temporary credit freeze, but most experts caution against it.
That’s because it’s easier to set a permanent freeze and temporarily lift it every once in a while than to try and sort through the havoc after identity theft occurs.
How to Unfreeze Your Credit
To unfreeze your credit, you must contact each credit bureau individually to request that they lift a freeze. If you know which bureau a lender is going to run your credit through, then you can unfreeze your credit report with that particular bureau only.
Unfreeze Your Credit With Equifax
To lift a security freeze with Equifax online, simply create a MyEquifax account. With a MyEquifax account, you can unfreeze your credit temporarily for a defined period of time or for only a specific creditor. Of course, you can permanently unfreeze your credit, although most experts do not recommend that option.
Equifax no longer requires a PIN number to unfreeze your credit report online, but you still need a PIN to lift a freeze by phone or mail.
Equifax contact info:
Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348
Unfreeze Your Credit With Experian
When you place a credit freeze with Experian, the bureau will give you a confirmation with a PIN number. You can use that PIN number to unfreeze your credit online at Experian’s Freeze Center. While at the Experian site, you can request a temporary or permanent lift of your credit freeze.
You can also request to permanently remove a freeze by submitting a written request by mail. Include the following with your written request:
- Full name
- Social Security number
- Copy of a government-issued identification card, such as a driver’s license or a state ID card.
- Copy of a utility bill or a statement from your insurance company or banking institution.
You can temporarily lift your credit for a specific time period with no maximum. It’s important to remember, however, that Experian does not allow you to change your time frame after you’ve submitted your credit lift.
Experian contact info:
Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Unfreeze Your Credit With TransUnion
Like Equifax and Experian, TransUnion makes it easy to unfreeze your credit through their website. Just log into myTransUnion or create a new account.
From there, you can lift a freeze for between one day and 30 days. You can begin the credit thaw on any date you choose.
You can limit the freeze life for a specific time period or for certain creditors when you are applying for credit. In this case, you have the option to create access codes for each creditor to use for a limited period of time.
TransUnion contact information:
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
Beware of the Credit Bureau’s Lock/Unlock Option
When you contact the credit agencies to freeze your credit, they are likely to steer you towards “locking” your credit instead of freezing it. The pitch is usually that a credit lock is a fast and easy option.
While credit freezing and credit locking sound familiar, they are actually very different. A credit lock is a random feature they created which circumvents state and federal government regulation. A credit freeze, however, is regulated, which means the bureaus must comply with specific criteria and procedures designed to protect consumers.
The Bottom Line
When you get your credit unfrozen, try to lift only the credit report at the bureau which a potential creditor is going to use. Doing so can help protect against scammers attempting to gain access to one of your unfrozen accounts
With data breaches becoming more commonplace, it’s a great time to safeguard your personal information with a credit freeze. Only unfreeze your credit for the time in which you apply for a new credit or loan account. Securing your credit in this way is a smart move that could potentially save you thousands of dollars in identity theft damage.