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Posted: 12:58 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013

Credit Freeze and Thaw Guide

Stop criminals from opening new credit in your name

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Get more consumer advice on ClarkHoward.com and The Clark Howard Show.

By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


Credit freezes are one of the most effective tools against economic ID theft available to consumers.

They allow you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily "thaw" your credit so that legitimate applications for credit and services can be processed. That added layer of security means that thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your ID.

Freezing your credit files has no impact whatsoever on your existing lines of credit, such as credit cards. You can continue to use them as you regularly would even when your credit is frozen.

Freezes have been available for free to victims of ID theft for some years, but recently all three of the major credit bureaus adopted new rules allowing non-victims to have access to credit freezes as well for a small fee. In addition, most states and Puerto Rico have adopted laws establishing credit freezes for residents of their state.

Residents of the state of Maryland may also freeze the credit reports of their minor children.

The cost ranges from $3-$10 per person per bureau to freeze a credit report; a couple of states have higher fees. See specific info for your state with the links below.

The cost to "thaw" your reports for one creditor -- or for a specific period of time -- range from being free to $10.

When shouldn't you freeze your credit?
If your credit reports are accessed often for work or because you create new accounts with various financial institutions on a regular basis, it is not suggested that you freeze your accounts. The costs to continually "thaw" your reports would tend to be excessive.

Below you'll find directions and links to assist you in obtaining your credit freeze or thaw from each bureau:

EQUIFAX CREDIT FREEZE - [Website] 

  • Credit freezes may be done online or by certified mail - return receipt requested.
  • Check your state's listing for the exact cost of your credit freeze and to see if there is a reduction in cost if you are a senior citizen.
  • Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include.
  • If your PIN is late arriving, call 1-888-298-0045. They will ask you for some ID and arrange for your PIN to be sent to you in 4-7 days.
  • Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your Equifax credit freeze by snail mail, online or by calling 1-888-298-0045.


EXPERIAN CREDIT FREEZE - [Website]

  • Credit freezes may be done online or by certified mail - return receipt requested.
  • Check your state's listing for the exact cost of your credit freeze and to see if there is a reduction in cost if you are a senior citizen.
  • Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include.
  • You can also freeze a child's credit report. The information contained at this link is applicable for all three credit bureaus. You must first write a letter to each bureau to learn if your minor child has a credit report and if so, then you can proceed to freeze it.
  • Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your Experian credit freeze online or by calling 1-888-397-3742.


TRANSUNION CREDIT FREEZE - [Website]

  • Credit freezes may be done online, by phone (1-888-909-8872) or by certified mail - return receipt requested. (Some users have reported difficulty with the online method. Please try one of the other options if you too experience difficulty.)
  • Check your state's listing for the exact cost of your credit freeze and to see if there is a reduction in cost if you are a senior citizen.
  • Request your credit freeze by certified mail using this sample letter. Please note the attachments you must include.
  • Unfreeze: Do a temporary thaw of your TransUnion credit freeze online or by calling 1-888-909-8872.

Special thanks to our listeners Carrie and Ed for their input into this guide.