What You Need to Know About the New Free Credit Freeze Law

September 12, 2018

Written by Amy Lauricella, Content Writer

Man Holds Cell Phone In Hand While Sitting Near Laptop

Forget what you think you know about the costs of freezing your credit report. Starting September 2018, some changes are coming, changes aimed at making it easier for Americans to get proactive about protecting their personal credit reports. A new federal law requires credit-reporting giants Equifax, Experian, and Transunion to “freeze” or “thaw” a consumer’s credit report free of charge – for everyone, at anytime. 

The new law is officially called the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. Here’s what you need to know about how it affects you and your credit report. 

What Has Changed 

Previously, depending on which state you lived in, you may have faced fees totaling up to as much as $30 in order to have a freeze placed by all three agencies. Then, when the time came to “thaw” the freeze because you needed to apply for a loan, for rental housing, or even for a job, boom: You could have gotten hit with those same fees all over again. 

Under the new law, it will be free to freeze or unfreeze your credit. There will be no charge to do so from any of the three agencies, in any part of the United States. When lifting the freeze, it will not matter whether you choose to make the “thaw” temporary or permanent – you will not be charged either way. 

What This Means for You 

If you have any suspicion that your credit information may have been compromised, don’t wait – contact EquifaxExperian, and Transunion immediately to freeze your credit file. 

Some more cautious credit experts also recommend keeping a freeze on your file regardless, as long as you don’t foresee needing a credit application or background check in the near future. It’s up to you to decide whether a preemptive freeze works for your current lifestyle. 

Agencies Must Place or Lift Freezes in A Timely Manner

The new legislation also mandates time frames for responses to freeze or thaw requests. If you request a freeze on your credit online or over the phone, the freeze must take effect within one business day. If you request a freeze by mail, it must be placed within three business days. If you need to have a freeze lifted, making your request online or over the phone will get your account thawed within one hour. Thaw requests made by mail can take up to three business days.  

What This Means for You 

Keep these time frames in mind if your credit is frozen so you can plan ahead when you know you will need to have a report pulled, whether for a loan or for a background check.   

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You Can Protect Your Child’s Credit, Too 

Before the new law, parents in some, but not all, states were allowed to freeze their child’s credit file. This step prevents identity thieves from using a child’s social security number to open up new accounts. 

If you have a child under the age of 16, you can now put a freeze on his or her credit for free, regardless of what state you live in. 

What This Means for You 

If you do choose to freeze your child’s credit, safeguard their PIN carefully for them until they come of age, so they don’t run into any surprise obstacles when they go to apply for that first car loan or college apartment. 

Fraud Alerts Now Last A Year

Fraud alerts require businesses to verify your identity before offering you credit. Usually, they will do this by calling you to see if you are actually in the store and who you say you are. Before the new law, you could place a fraud alert on your credit report and it would last just 90 days.  If you wanted continual protection, you would have to remember to call and renew the alert every three months. 

Now, once you opt for a fraud alert, you will have this protection for a full year before the alert expires. 

What This Means for You

A level below a credit freeze, fraud alerts are a valuable tool if you want some protection but don’t want to completely lock up your credit right now. 

How to Freeze Your Credit

EquifaxExperian, and Transunion will all modify their websites so that consumers can easily find where to submit a no-cost freeze or thaw request online. You can also freeze or unfreeze your credit over the phone, or by mail.  You will need to provide identifying information such as your social security number and your current and past addresses. 

You’ll be given a PIN, and this PIN is what you will use to lift the freeze, permanently or temporarily, whenever you decide. 

What This Means for You 

Remember that if you want to successfully lock up your credit file, you will need to contact each of the three agencies separately and request a freeze from each one. Once you’ve placed the freezes, keep your PINs in a secure spot where you can access them easily – they are now your keys to applying for any kind of credit.