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How to Freeze, Unfreeze, and ‘Thaw’ Your Credit (and Why It’s Important)

A credit freeze is one of the most effective ways to prevent new accounts from being opened using your stolen personal data. It’s free, doesn’t impact your credit score, and when it’s time to lift it, you have more options than just unfreezing. You can also temporarily thaw your credit when you need to apply for new credit yourself. Here’s what you need to know about freezing, unfreezing, and thawing your credit.

How to Freeze Your Credit

Freezing your credit is simple and free through the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Follow these steps:

  1. Visit Each Bureau’s Website: Request a freeze on your credit report.
  2. Provide Personal Information: Verify your identity by providing the required details.
  3. Receive a PIN: Each bureau will give you a personal identification number (PIN) to use when you want to lift the freeze temporarily or permanently.

That’s it! Your credit will be frozen at all three bureaus, preventing new creditors from accessing your report unless you allow it.

Thawing vs. Unfreezing Credit

To unfreeze your credit, you must request it from each major credit bureau. If you make the request online or by phone, the bureaus should lift the freeze within an hour. When you unfreeze your credit, it remains open unless you request another freeze.

However, “unfreeze” isn’t your only option. When you’re ready to apply for new credit like a loan or credit card, you can “thaw” your frozen credit instead of unfreezing it permanently. A thaw temporarily lifts the freeze for a set period, such as a week, after which it will automatically re-freeze without additional action from you.

To thaw your frozen credit:

  1. Contact the Bureau(s): Use your PIN to request a temporary thaw.
  2. Specify the Time Period: Indicate how long you want the thaw to last. This allows creditors to access your report for that period, after which it re-freezes automatically.

Why You Should Freeze Your Credit

While freezing your credit won’t completely prevent identity theft, it’s one of the best ways to protect yourself and minimize potential damage from stolen personal information. Given that it’s free and convenient, there’s little reason not to take advantage of this added security. In addition to freezing your credit, you’re entitled to free credit reports every week from each bureau, making it easier to monitor your report regularly.

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