Eight months after the epic Equifax data breach, which exposed the sensitive information of more than 146 million consumers, Congress tangibly responded. On May 24, President Donald Trump signed into law a bipartisan bill that makes freezing a credit report free for everyone in the U.S. and simultaneously fulfilled his early-term promise to "do a big number" on Dodd-Frank.
The provision for free credit freezes was included in the larger Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which effectively rolls back major parts of the Obama-era Dodd-Frank Act.
The new law affects a wide variety of consumer finance issues, but as far as credit freezes go, it makes placing, lifting and permanently removing a freeze on your credit report free, no matter where you live.
Before the law, each state had its own laws regulating the prices consumers pay to the big three reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — to freeze and unfreeze credit reports. Previously, only three states (Indiana, Maine and South Carolina) allowed any resident to freeze or unfreeze their credit reports for free.
In addition, the new law requires credit reporting agencies to fulfill a request to freeze, thaw or permanently lift a freeze within one business day if the request is placed online or over the phone, and three business days if the request was made via snail mail. These new provisions will go into effect four months after they became law.
What’s a credit freeze again?
A credit freeze is a consumer protection tool that restricts access to your credit report. It can be used to prevent fraudsters from using your information to commit financial identity fraud.
Placing a freeze on your credit report prevents creditors from seeing your file when you or someone else applies for new credit, so no one will be able to open a new credit account in your name without your knowledge. If you want to apply for credit, you’ll need to lift, or thaw, the freeze.
A credit freeze doesn’t completely prevent identity theft, as it only pertains to transactions that involve credit report requests. The freeze doesn’t impact your credit score, restrict your existing creditors’ access to your credit report or stop you from receiving prescreened credit offers (lenders generally pre-qualify new consumers using a soft pull).
How to freeze your credit report:
You can freeze your credit report online, or by phone or mail with all three major credit reporting bureaus. You must go through a separate process with each credit bureau. We explain the steps in detail here, but here are the basics:
Each credit bureau allows you to request a credit freeze online, by 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
There are mobile options, too.
TransUnion offers a free TrueIdentity mobile app for those enrolled in its free True Identity service that provides the ability to lock and unlock credit reports instantly. And, in the aftermath of the data breach, Equifax released its free Lock & Alert app, which allows consumers to freeze and thaw their credit reports with a swipe. Experian offers a credit freeze app, IdentityWorks, to lock and unlock your credit report, but only to people with memberships to Experian IdentityWorks Premium or Experian CreditWorks℠ Premium, which charge fees.
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MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.